A new COVID-19 variant has been discovered in the United Kingdom, as the country’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has begun analyzing it.
The agency said that as of March 22, 637 cases of the new strain, dubbed XE, have been found in England. It is described as a “recombinant” of the Omicron variant, and its relative BA.2, with “the majority of the genome including the S gene belonging to BA.2.”
XE represents less than 1% of all cases in the U.K., however, and experts are still unclear on how contagious it is. UKHSA chief medical advisor transition lead Professor Susan Hopkins says that recombinant variants are frequent and typically wane after a period of time.
“So far there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about transmissibility, severity or vaccine effectiveness,” Hopkins said, as reported by The Independent.
COVID cases have reached a record high in England, as nearly 8% of people had the virus in the week ending March 26, based on an estimation from the Office for National Statistics. That’s around one in every 13 people, as data also show that the number of infections throughout the U.K. increased by over 600,000 compared to the week prior. Officials in the country have also announced that free universal testing has come to an end.