The UK is currently facing its fifth wave of Covid-19 infections, experts have warned, as cases hit 1.7 million in the latest weekly figures, a 23 per cent week-on-week increase (wow).
Of even greater concern, hospital admissions have increased by 31 percent, more than the last Omicron revival in March.
The situation first came to light after the four-day bank holiday to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee, when a rise of 43 per coronavirus cases was reported, and there are fears other big summer gatherings such as Glastonbury, Notting Hill Carnival and the Edinburgh Festival could all too Super spreader events if proper precautions are not taken.
The surge is reportedly being driven by subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 of Omicron, the strain that spread rapidly across the UK in December 2021 and January 2022 before gradually declining.
First spotted in South Africa in January and February respectively, these latest incarnations are effectively Omicron’s grandsons.
They have three mutations in their spike proteins that, it is feared, allow them to retrain their attack on human lung cells.
This means they have more in common with the earlier, more dangerous Alpha and Delta variants than the highly transmissible but milder Omicron, which targeted upper respiratory tissue.
Possibly, these mutations could also allow the subvariants to evade antibodies from previous infections or vaccinations, thus overcoming immunity.
Preliminary data collected by Professor Kei Sato of the University of Tokyo in Japan seems to indicate so, prompting the virologist to comment: “Overall, our research suggests that the risk of [these] The global health Omicron variants, particularly BA.4 and BA.5, are potentially better than the original BA.2.”
While immunity is high in Britain, with 87.1 per cent of the population having received two doses of the vaccine and 68.6 per cent of people having received a booster shot, the public has largely behaved as if the pandemic has died down since the last unpopular Boris government Johnson had never happened. The restrictions were lifted a month ahead of schedule on February 24, giving up face masks, distancing and normal life resuming.
However, it has been more than six months since the last major booster jab drive before Christmas and the New Year and immunity could be waning, potentially leaving more patients in need of professional care and possibly even dying, either now or later in the year that flu season begins.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Government’s Joint Committee on Immunizations and Vaccination, has already called for a new round of booster shots to be made available by September.
“The booster protection wears off, especially in the case of lighter infections and after a while also in the case of severe infections. So that’s a disappointment for all of us in terms of these vaccines, which have otherwise been very valuable in terms of the pandemic,” he told BBC Radio 4 today Program.
“But we need to provide booster shots, particularly for people who are at risk of becoming very seriously ill if they get it later in the year.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has been monitoring these strains since April and currently Omicron, including its subvariants BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, BA.5 and progeny, is the only form of Covid known to be ” Variant of Concern”.
Fortunately, there are earlier variants in this category such as Alpha (formerly known as B.1.1.7 and first discovered in Kent), Beta (formerly B.1.351, from South Africa), Delta (B.1.617.2, India) and Gamma (P.1, Brazil) have been banned from the list and are not currently considered a threat.
Others that were once under scrutiny, like the epsilon, eta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, theta, and zeta variants, don’t even make the “interesting variants” list anymore the WHO.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control also lists the same Omicron subvariants of concern, with the exception of the BA.3 strain, which it has only de-escalated to surveillance status.
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently only lists the same subvariants as “of concern” but retains Alpha, Beta, Delta, Epsilon, Eta, Gamma, Iota, Kappa, Mu, and Zeta as “variants in monitoring”.