Highly contagious "Stealth Omicron" Covid variant accounts for more than one in three Wigan cases
The coronavirus pandemic is “not over”, health chiefs have warned amid concern about the highly contagious “Stealth Omicron” strain which makes up more than a third of Wigan cases.
The Omicron sub-variant, officially called BA.2, is now dominant across England, analysis shows.
BA.2 accounted for 57 per cent of cases in England in the last week of February, up from a quarter just two weeks before, according to research by the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
It comes amid a recent rise in both cases and hospitalisations.
Stealth Omicron got its nickname because it is more difficult to differentiate from Delta than the original Omicron variant, BA.1.
It is also more contagious but early studies suggest it carries no greater risk of hospitalisation.
In Wigan the Steath Omicron variant constituted 37 per cent of cases in that last week of February: 27 cases out of 73 samples. Of the remaining 46, all but one were regular Omicron variants. The last was categorised as “other or unknown.”
WiganToday reported recently that Covid-19 cases have been going up in 22 of the 40 areas of the borough.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said case numbers were lower than at the peak of the Omicron wave.
She said: “However, the increasing presence of the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron and the recent slight increase in infections in those over 55 show that the pandemic is not over and that we can expect to see Covid circulating at high levels.”
Prof Paul Elliott, director of Imperial College London’s React programme, said England is also seeing a rise in hospitalisations and warned that the BA.2 variant needs to be tracked carefully.
He added: “It is more transmissible. We are seeing an uptick in infections, particularly in the older group, and we are seeing an uptick in hospitalisations.
“At the moment, we’re possibly seeing the beginning of an uptick, but we don’t know where it’s going to go.”
The Wellcome Sanger Institute analysed 27,000 positive Covid-19 tests taken in the week to February 26 to determine which variant they were. In many parts of the country Stealth Omicron accounted for between 60 and 80 per cent of cases.