Deltacron: SAGE member warns UK in perfect condition for new Covid variants to ‘take off’

Covid-19: Sir Patrick Vallance warns 'virus hasn't gone away'

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England axed free testing on April 1, after around one in 15 people in the UK were found to have COVID-19 in the week ending March 19. This was just shy of a 30 percent increase on the previous week. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last month showed that case numbers had skyrocketed by around a million in a week.

The sharp increase in infections has been driven by the spread of the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, otherwise known as “stealth Omicron”.

It is more transmissible than the previous Omicron variant, BA.1, particularly when restrictions are no longer in place.

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor at the University of Leeds and guest member of the independent SAGE group, told that BA.2 is the “immediate problem” to be addressed.

He said: “We are behaving as though this has become some kind of endemic, seasonal virus – which it clearly has not.

“The BA.2 subvariant is showing us this.”

But the issue is not just in the spread of the BA.2 subvariant, Dr Griffin explained.

He detailed that it also fosters the conditions for potentially more lethal strains to spread uninhibited through the population.

He explained: “There’s been a clear increase in the R-value across the country.

“We’ve been hovering at just under one for many months now, and then all of a sudden it’s up”.

He added: “If a new variant enters into a situation where the R-value is above one, then, obviously, that means the conditions are favourable for it to spread.

“So that’s its first hurdle.”

He continued: “If it’s then able to outcompete other variants, as we are seeing BA.2 outcompeting BA.1, then you will see a new peak, and a new wave, which first appears like a plateau because you’ve got one peak coming down and the other one going up.

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He then warned: “But then it will take off.

“It’s very clear BA.2 is going to take off – it’s already taken off in Scotland, Northern Ireland, it’s going to be taking off quite significantly in the UK across the board.

“So, if you have a new variant – and we saw this with Delta – you need to have the conditions available that restrict its ability to embed itself in the population.”

Restricting the virus’s ability to spread in a population is crucial for recombinant variants such as Deltacron, which Dr Griffin explained is a melding of the two mutations with “the Omicron spike and the Delta backbone”.

He made the caveat that there is not yet proof Deltacron “will be greater than the sum of the parts of its parents”, but that the number of cases detected “does suggest this thing has at least the ability to grow relatively successfully.

He added: “It may not have the ability to completely outcompete BA.1 or BA.2 yet, but we don’t know.”

On Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that only those at risk of serious illness and eligible for treatments, plus health and care staff or high-risk workers, will continue to access free Covid testing.

The Government cited statistics showing that over 55 percent of people in hospitals with COVID-19 are not there with Covid illness as their primary diagnosis.

Dr Griffin rejected the end of free testing, commenting: “Just relying on vaccines on their own is wrong.”

He denounced the end of free testing as “disarming us of the protections that we can use to actually get by with this virus, and have more freedom, for those people who aren’t able to enjoy the sorts of liberties that are being encouraged by the Government”.

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