- XBB.1.16 is an Omicron subvariant and has already been logged in 34 countries
- About 135 cases confirmed in almost all parts of the UK
- India now accounts for nearly two-thirds of all recorded XBB.1.16 cases.
Five Britons have already died from Arcturus, the new Covid strain that is wreaking havoc across India.
The variant, believed to be the most contagious to date, is wreaking havoc in India as cases surge 90-fold since it first broke out two months ago.
Some of the worst-hit states have mandated the wearing of masks to curb its rapid spread.
The head of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has detected 135 cases of the Omicron spin-off that first reached the UK in mid-February.
The only area that has yet to be seen is the northeast.
5 fatal cases are included.
However, the number of cases based on genomic surveillance would be greatly underestimated as only a fraction of the samples have been fully tested.
Surveillance data show that the strain, scientifically called XBB.1.16, accounts for approximately 2.3% of all new cases.
Another unofficial figure suggests that about 65,000 Britons are infected every day.
A UKHSA official said Arcturus, nicknamed by an online variant tracker, is one of the UK’s “most competitive” Covid strains.
Officials at the government health agency expect one or the other stock to dominate in the coming weeks.
“However, the sample size for XBB.1.16 is very small and the results may change as more data becomes available,” they noted.
Leading experts argue that there is no evidence that the strain is more serious than other strains that are prevalent.
The illness caused by the coronavirus now looks a lot like the illness of the flu, unlike in the early days of the pandemic.
However, XBB.1.16 has three additional mutations in the spike protein that may help it evade the body’s natural defenses.
However, UKHSA says it is “unclear” whether this variant will cause a new wave in the UK, where levels of immunity to India vary widely.
India is now recording nearly 10,000 Covid cases daily.
This is up from 160 in late February when the variant started to pick up pace.
Data suggest that it accounts for two-thirds of all cases in the country.
Frontline doctors in India claim to have seen an increase in children infected with conjunctivitis, suggesting that Arcturus may be causing different symptoms than other subspecies.
The strain was first identified in January and is being monitored by the World Health Organization (WHO) From the end of March.
It has now been confirmed in 34 countries, including the United States, Singapore, Australia, and Canada.
Other Omicron subvariants include Kraken (XBB.1.5) and Orthrus (CH.1.1).
Kraken currently predominates in the UK, causing 44% of all cases, while Omicron accounts for 8%.
Infection rates appear to have declined over the past two weeks, despite fears that the number of cases could rise soon.
Health tech company ZOE, which unlike the government, has a daily Covid surveillance project, predicts about 1.05 million The UK had Covid as of yesterday.
This is down by about 400,000 from the 1.49 million reported at the end of March.
This is less than half the levels seen during the peak winter rush.
Professor Robert Dingwall, who advised the government on the virus during the pandemic, also told MailOnline today:
“Like any other flu-like illness, Covid needs to be treated. The flu virus also changes fairly regularly, but it’s not the main news.
“Public health agencies are tracking changes so vaccines can be adjusted. Covid does not require another response now.
Officials no longer track the spread of the virus in the same way as before, as part of the government’s lead in pre-pandemic normalization.
Variation tracking capabilities have also been reduced.
As with similar new Covid variants, online virus trackers have decided to call XBB.1.16 “Arcturus”, following the pattern of naming new strains after mythological entities.
Arcturus means “guardian of the bears” and is related to the constellation called Ursa Major.