Is an even MORE infectious strain of Delta now taking off in Britain?

A subvariant of the Covid Delta strain could be more infectious than its ancestor, experts warned today after data revealed the proportion of cases linked to the strain has doubled in a month.

AY.4.2, as it is currently known to scientists, made up almost 10 per cent of all infections in England in the fortnight ending October 9. Virus-trackers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, which sequences thousands of Covid samples every week, say its prevalence stood at just four per cent in mid-September. 

Experts estimate that it could be up to 15 per cent more infectious than the original Delta strain, which is dominant worldwide and quickly took off in Britain in the spring.

The subvariant has been detected in almost every part of the country and it has been linked with up to 60 per cent of positive tests sampled sequenced in Adur, West Sussex.

Some 45 different sub-lineages of the variant — which was first spotted in India and is thought to be the most transmissible strain of Covid — have been recorded so far. 

No10 is keeping a close eye on AY.4.2 but said there is ‘no evidence’ that it spreads more easily. Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson today warned the Government ‘won’t hesitate to take action if necessary’.

It comes amid spiralling cases in the UK, which have shot up to almost 50,000 yesterday in a three-month high. 

Experts suggested AY.4.2 may be partly to blame, along with return of pupils to classrooms from August and workers to offices. 

SAGE fears there will be a fourth wave by the end of the year that will cripple the NHS.

Ministers are overseeing a rollout of booster jabs to over-50s, healthcare workers and the immunosuppressed to protect the health service as much as possible.

But experts have warned the jabs are being dished out too slowly, with 5million vulnerable adults eligible for a third dose yet to receive it, as the country moves into the colder months and faces the double threat of increasing case numbers and flu. 

SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, today insisted it was ‘critical we accelerate’ the booster drive to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding having to bring back curbs.

The graph shows the proportion of cases sequenced in England that are the new subvariant AY.4.2 (yellow) and Delta (blue). Delta became dominant in the UK in May, overtaking the previously dominant Alpha strain (purple)

The graph shows the proportion of cases sequenced in England that are the new subvariant AY.4.2 (yellow) and Delta (blue). Delta became dominant in the UK in May, overtaking the previously dominant Alpha strain (purple)

The graph shows the proportion of cases sequenced in England that are the new subvariant AY.4.2 (yellow) and Delta (blue). Delta became dominant in the UK in May, overtaking the previously dominant Alpha strain (purple)

The map shows the proportion of cases caused by AY.4.2 in the fortnight to October 9, with darker colours equating to more infections caused by the subvariant. Data from the Sanger Institute shows 8.9 per cent of all Covid-positive nose and throat swabs sequenced in England were caused by AY.4.2. It statistics suggests the sub-lineage is most prevalent in Adur, where 61 per cent of all positive samples sequenced were linked with AY.4.2. The subvariant also seems to be highly prevalent in East Lindsey (46 per cent) and Torridge (41 per cent)

The map shows the proportion of cases caused by AY.4.2 in the fortnight to October 9, with darker colours equating to more infections caused by the subvariant. Data from the Sanger Institute shows 8.9 per cent of all Covid-positive nose and throat swabs sequenced in England were caused by AY.4.2. It statistics suggests the sub-lineage is most prevalent in Adur, where 61 per cent of all positive samples sequenced were linked with AY.4.2. The subvariant also seems to be highly prevalent in East Lindsey (46 per cent) and Torridge (41 per cent)

The map shows the proportion of cases caused by AY.4.2 in the fortnight to October 9, with darker colours equating to more infections caused by the subvariant. Data from the Sanger Institute shows 8.9 per cent of all Covid-positive nose and throat swabs sequenced in England were caused by AY.4.2. It statistics suggests the sub-lineage is most prevalent in Adur, where 61 per cent of all positive samples sequenced were linked with AY.4.2. The subvariant also seems to be highly prevalent in East Lindsey (46 per cent) and Torridge (41 per cent)

The prevalence of the Delta strain, which was first detected in the UK in March and became dominant within two months, grew much faster than AY.4.2 has grown so far. Delta is still responsible for nine in 10 infections in England

The prevalence of the Delta strain, which was first detected in the UK in March and became dominant within two months, grew much faster than AY.4.2 has grown so far. Delta is still responsible for nine in 10 infections in England

The prevalence of the Delta strain, which was first detected in the UK in March and became dominant within two months, grew much faster than AY.4.2 has grown so far. Delta is still responsible for nine in 10 infections in England

How much more infectious is AY.4.2? Is it more deadly? Where has it been spotted?

How much more infectious is AY.4.2? 

Experts estimate the newly-emerged AY.4.2 subvariant is 10 to 15 per cent more transmissible that earlier version of the Delta strain.

Its prevalence in England doubled in a month from being behind four per cent of cases in September to 8.9 per cent in the two weeks to October 9.

But experts will need to keep monitoring the sublineage to determine if it really is more infectious.

Is AY.4.2 more deadly than earlier versions of Delta?

There is no evidence AY.4.2 is more deadly than earlier versions of the Delta strain, which was first identified in India last December.

Deaths in England have been relatively flat for months. 

Due to the time it takes for someone to catch the virus and become seriously unwell, any impact the subvariant has on deaths will likely not be clear for weeks.

Where has AY.4.2 been spotted?

The subvariant has been spotted in nearly every part of England. 

Data from the Sanger Institute, which sequences thousands of Covid samples in England every week, suggest the sub-lineage is most prevalent in Adur, where 61 per cent of all positive samples sequenced were linked with AY.4.2.

The subvariant also seems to be highly prevalent in East Lindsey (46 per cent) and Torridge (41 per cent).

Is it behind the surge in cases?

Some experts have said the subvariant may be behind the surge in cases in the UK, which other European countries are not seeing to the same extent.

But Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid Genomics Initiative at the Sanger Institute, said AY.4.2 alone does not explain the the UK’s caseload, which is instead linked to the UK imposing less restrictions than other countries. 

And as AY.4.2 is still at fairly low frequency, a 10 per cent increase its transmissibility would have only triggered a small number of extra cases. 

Official figures have shown cases are also being fuelled by youngsters returning to classrooms last month, with as many as one in 12 being infected.

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It comes as:

  • Nearly 5million vulnerable adults have yet to have their Covid booster vaccine, official figures show;
  • ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson says it’s ‘critical we accelerate’ the booster drive with fears growing over s ‘challenging’ winter which could see return of face masks and WFH;
  • Professor Ferguson called for return of face masks and for teenagers to get two Covid vaccines.

Professor Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, told the Financial Times the strain could be the most infectious subvariant seen since the pandemic began.

But he noted Britain is the only country where the sublineage has ‘taken off’, so its quick growth could be a ‘chance demographic event’.

The World Health Organization will likely elevate AY.4.2 to a ‘variant under investigation’, which means it would be given a name under its Greek letter naming system, Professor Balloux added. 

He said: ‘The emergence of yet another more transmissible strain would be suboptimal. 

‘Though, this is not a situation comparable to the emergence of Alpha and Delta that were far more transmissible — 50 per cent or more — than any strain in circulation at the time. 

‘Here we are dealing with a potential small increase in transmissibility that would not have a comparable impact on the pandemic.’

The UK Health Security Agency revealed in a report on Friday that the subvariant is expanding in England. 

It includes two mutations — called Y145H and A222V — and is being monitored, the HSA said.

Both of these spike mutations have been found in other virus lineages since the pandemic began, but are not present on any current variant of concern. 

Professor Balloux said the mutations are not obviously linked with increased transmissibility or evading protection granted by vaccines.

Only three AY.4.2 cases have been spotted in the US, while two per cent of cases in Denmark are caused by the sublineage, he added.

Data from the Sanger Institute suggests the sub-lineage is most prevalent in Adur, where 61 per cent of all positive samples sequenced were linked with AY.4.2.

The subvariant also seems to be highly prevalent in East Lindsey (46 per cent) and Torridge (41 per cent).

It comes as the UK recorded 49,156 new Covid infections yesterday, marking another three-month high. Hospitalisations and deaths are also on the rise. 

Some experts have said the subvariant may be behind the surge, which other European countries are not seeing to the same extent.

Former US Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted on Sunday: ‘We need urgent research to figure out if this ‘delta plus’ is more transmissible, has partial immune evasion.’

But Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid Genomics Initiative at the Sanger Institute, told the Financial Times AY.4.2 alone does not explain the the UK’s caseload, which is instead linked to the UK imposing less restrictions than other countries. 

Official figures have shown cases are also being fuelled by youngsters returning to classrooms last month, with as many as one in 12 being infected.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government is ‘keeping a very close eye on’ the subvariant.

They said: ‘There’s no evidence to suggest that this variant … the AY.4.2 one … is more easily spread. There’s no evidence for that but as you would expect we’re monitoring it closely and won’t hesitate to take action if necessary.’ 

Around 3.7million third vaccines have been dished out to over-50s and the immuno-compromised in England as of Sunday (purple line), the latest date data is available for. But some 8.5million people are currently eligible for a booster dose, having received their second jab six months ago (green line). means 4.8million people may be suffering from waning immunity

Nearly 5MILLION vulnerable adults have yet to have their Covid booster vaccine

Nearly 5million vulnerable adults have yet to receive a Covid booster vaccine, official data shows after Downing Street admitted Britain faces a ‘challenging’ winter.

Despite the NHS top-up programme launching over a month ago, only around 3.7million out of the 8.5million eligible people in England have received the crucial third dose.

No10’s scientists approved plans to revaccinate all healthy over-50s, frontline health staff and carers and patients with underlying medical conditions six months after their second dose, after evidence showed it was the ‘sweet spot’ for immunity. 

The lagging rollout has left around 4.8million people with sub-optimal immunity as the country moves into the colder months and faces the double threat of increasing case numbers and flu.

SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, today insisted it was ‘critical we accelerate’ the booster drive to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding having to bring back curbs.

And Sir David King, who was the Government’s chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, criticised the rollout for moving ‘extremely slowly’.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, insisted the health service has ‘plenty of capacity’ to vaccinate all eligible people immediately but said people are not coming forward quickly enough. She told MPs on the Health Committee: ‘It’s really important that we now absolutely do get the message out that is Covid is still with us.’

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Dr Alexander Edwards, an immunologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline said it would be concerning if a variant starts to dominant that evades vaccine immunity. 

He said: ‘Before the successful rollout of vaccines, this was less likely to happen, but now, with such a high proportion of the population infected, alongside waning immunity, now is the time to be extra vigilant.  

‘Luckily, we can redesign our vaccines very quickly now, so there isn’t yet anything to be afraid of. 

‘But any efforts made now to reduce cases and improve immunity — through boosters, vaccinating younger people, testing and effective isolating — could pay off if they cut the risk of vaccine evading variants.’ 

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, told MailOnline the detection of AY.4.2 ‘highlights the need for continued genomic surveillance of the virus’. 

Experts will need to monitor it to determine ‘if it really is more transmissible and if it has any impact of the efficacy of vaccination’, he said.

Professor Young added: ‘The continued spread of the virus at a high level in the UK increases the risk of variants being generated that could be more infectiousness and more able to evade vaccine-induced immunity.’

It comes as official figures show nearly 5million vulnerable adults have yet to receive a Covid booster vaccine, after Downing Street admitted Britain faces a ‘challenging’ winter.

Despite the NHS top-up programme launching over a month ago, only around 3.7million out of the 8.5m eligible people in England have received the crucial third dose.

No10’s scientists approved plans to revaccinate all healthy over-50s, frontline health staff and carers and patients with underlying medical conditions six months after their second dose, after evidence showed it was the ‘sweet spot’ for immunity. 

The lagging rollout has left around 4.8m people with sub-optimal immunity as the country moves into the colder months and faces the double threat of increasing case numbers and flu.

SAGE adviser ‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, today insisted it was ‘critical we accelerate’ the booster drive to give ourselves the best chance of avoiding having to bring back curbs.

And Sir David King, who was the Government’s chief scientific adviser from 2000 to 2007, criticised the rollout for moving ‘extremely slowly’.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of the NHS, insisted the health service has ‘plenty of capacity’ to vaccinate all eligible people immediately but said people are not coming forward quickly enough. She told MPs on the Health Committee: ‘It’s really important that we now absolutely do get the message out that is Covid is still with us.’

But some experts also say the booster programme is going slower because the UK is juggling administering first jabs to children in secondary schools and running the largest flu vaccination programme in history. 

Prof Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson calls for return of face masks and for teenagers to get TWO Covid vaccines

Face coverings should be brought back to remind people to be cautious in everyday interactions, one of the Government’s most influential scientific advisers suggested today.

‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson said masks ‘remind people we’re not completely out of the woods yet’.

All legal Covid restrictions were lifted in England on ‘Freedom Day’ in July, bringing an end to mandatory coverings indoors. However, people are still required by some transport companies and in medical settings — and No10 still advises people wear them in crowded environments.  

Ministers are keeping masks, WFH guidance and controversial vaccine passports in their back pocket as part of the Government’s ‘Plan B’, if an expected surge in cases this winter heaps unsustainable pressure on the NHS

Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, admitted some measures have to be rolled back, in the event of an uptick in infections. 

But speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he ruled out another blanket shut-down. He said: ‘I doubt we’ll ever get close to [the] lockdown we were in in January of this year.’  

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Pictures today show clinics lying virtually empty, some of which are not open for booster jab walk-ins — further highlighting the complexity of Britain’s current rollout.

It comes against the backdrop of rising cases with 49,156 infections recorded yesterday — the highest daily figure in three months. Downing Street warned that Britons should prepare for a ‘challenging few months’ 

 Boris Johnson’s spokesman said there were ‘currently’ no plans to reintroduce Plan B restrictions — which include face masks and working from home guidance — but that ministers were keeping ‘a very close watch on the latest statistics’.

Britain led the world in the initial vaccine rollout, but it has now slumped behind Italy, Spain and France in terms of the percentage of the population to be double-jabbed. 

This is because it delayed rolling out jabs to healthy children, whereas most EU members approved those plans much quicker.

All over-50s and the clinically vulnerable can get a booster jab from six months after their second dose. 

But experts have warned that at the current rate the most vulnerable will not all receive their third vaccination until the end of January.

Asked if Covid booster jabs are the answer to waning immunity, Professor Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Absolutely, and there’s data coming through now, which is not completely clear cut, but good data coming through from Israel, which shows that, if you’ve had the third booster dose of the vaccine, then you get very high loads, better than even you had after the second dose.

‘And so I do think it’s critical we accelerate the booster programme.

‘The other thing is infection rates are highest in teenagers at the moment and most other European countries are ahead of us in vaccinating teenagers and giving them two doses, not just one dose.

‘Two doses really are needed to block infection and prevent transmission, so I think that’s the other problem, keep pushing on, getting coverage rates up higher in the teenagers who are driving a lot of this infection.’   

He also called for face coverings to be brought back to remind people to be cautious in everyday interactions and ‘remind people we’re not completely out of the woods yet’.

All legal Covid restrictions were lifted in England on ‘Freedom Day’ in July, bringing an end to mandatory coverings indoors. However, people are still required by some transport companies and in medical settings — and No10 still advises people wear them in crowded environments.  

Ministers are keeping masks, WFH guidance and controversial vaccine passports in their back pocket as part of the Government’s ‘Plan B’, if an expected surge in cases this winter heaps unsustainable pressure on the NHS

Professor Ferguson, an epidemiologist who sits on SAGE, admitted some measures have to be rolled back, in the event of an uptick in infections. 

But speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he ruled out another blanket shut-down. He said: ‘I doubt we’ll ever get close to [the] lockdown we were in in January of this year.’   

Link hienalouca.com

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