Omicron’s BA.2 submarine is now responsible for almost all cases of Covid-19 in England, the analysis says.
BA.2 has emerged as much more transmissible than previous variants and seems to be the main driver of the growing UK case number.
Daily official figures recorded 516,289 cases across the UK from last week to yesterday, a seven-day average of 49.2 per cent. Confirmed Covid-19 patients are occupying 11,010 hospital beds in England, up from 9,163 a week ago.
A spring booster program for people over the age of 75, residents of care homes for the elderly and those with a weakened immune system for 12 years and older is set to begin next week in England. The program, which is expected to give top-up jobs to more than 8 million people across the UK, will use the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
Health officials described it as a “precautionary measure” against potentially weakening immunity among the weakest, many of whom had their initial boosters more than six months ago.
University of East Anglia professor Alistair Grant shared modeling data on Twitter suggesting that BA.2 accounts for 90 per cent of all cases in England, up from 80 per cent a week. He said: “Without our BA.2 the number of infections would be fairly flat (as in BA.1) [the original Omicron variant] The number is).
“BA.2 is about 1.4 times more contagious than BA.1, so this is what we see leading to an increase in cases.”
The Office for National Statistics infection survey increased in all four UK countries in the week ending March 5, with one in 25 people in the UK, one in 30 in Wales, one in 13 in Northern Ireland and one in 18 in Scotland testing positive. Its own variant analysis shows that the percentage of BA.2 probability is increasing in all four countries, where the probability ratio of BA.1 is decreasing. Simon Clark, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at Reading University, said BA.2 was effective, meaning it was “at least a contributing factor” to increasing the number of cases. He said: “It may be the biggest reason, but we can’t really tell at the moment.”
A preliminary analysis by the UK Health Security Agency found no evidence of higher risk of hospitalization after BA.2 infection than BA.1. This indicates that there is no evidence of a reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines against significant diseases.
Tests at Imperial College London found that hamsters that had previously been infected with the BA.1 Omicron subvertens were not re-infected after coming into contact with animals infected with BA.2.
This came as ONS released figures showing that people’s lives were returning to “normal”, with 9 per cent reporting that their lives had returned to normal by February, up from 4 per cent in a survey conducted in late December and early January.
Most people say they wash their hands or use hand gel more often, cover their faces, avoid crowded places, and spend more time at home because of the epidemic.
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said it was “quite inevitable” that once BA.2 became effective, the total number of cases would begin to rise again.
But he said that “brightly it looks like other places in Europe where countries already had their BA.2 peaks. [Denmark and the Netherlands] It’s short-lived and the next fall is fast. “