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New COVID-19 virus variant cases rising rapidly in England: UK Health 

A new mutant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading across the UK rapidly, and the number of people infected with the disease is rising, government data shows.

HQ Team

August 5, 2023: A new mutant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading across the UK rapidly, and the number of people infected with the disease is rising, government data shows.

Positive tests based on genomic sequences conducted in England’s hospitals reveal that 5.4% of the 4,396 respiratory specimens were identified with COVID-19 virus compared with 3.7% of 4,403 patients on July, 20.

The samples were reported through the nation’s Respiratory DataMart System, and the lineages with a “positive growth rate estimated with reasonable confidence” were XBB.1.16 at 41.82%, and a new vairant EG.5.1 at 20.51%.

The XBB.1.16 figures exclude the XBB.1.16.1 sublineage, according to a report by the UK Health Security Agency.

The overall COVID-19 hospital admission rate for week 30 was 1.97 per 100,000 population, an increase from 1.17 per 100,000 in the July report.

Intensive care unit admission rates have decreased to 0.05 compared to 0.07 in the previous report.

‘Continue to rise’

Those aged 85 years and over continue to have the highest hospital admission rates — these have increased to 20.49 per 100,000 from 9.8 per 100,000. Admission rates among those aged 75 to 84 years have increased to 9.45 per 100,000 from 5.54.

“We continue to see a rise in COVID-19 cases in this week’s report,” Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said.

“We have also seen a small rise in hospital admission rates in most age groups, particularly among the elderly. Overall levels of admission still remain extremely low and we are not currently seeing a similar increase in ICU admissions. We will continue to monitor these rates closely.”

EG.5.1 was first raised as a signal in monitoring on July 3, 2023 as part of horizon scanning due to increasing reports internationally, particularly in Asia. 

It was subsequently raised from a signal in monitoring to a variant V-23JUL-01 on July 31, 2023, due to the increasing number of genomes in UK data, and continued growth internationally.

Variant definition 

Declaring this lineage as a variant will allow further detailed characterisation and analysis. A full variant definition is in progress and it will be available in due course, the agency stated.

In the week beginning 10 July 2023, 11.8% of UK sequences had been classified as EG.5.1 according to data as of July 27, 2023. The World Health Organization added EG.5.1 to the list of Omicron variants under monitoring in July.

Regular and thorough hand washing helps protect you from COVID-19 and other bugs and viruses. “If you have symptoms of a respiratory illness, we recommend staying away from others where possible.,” Dr Mary Ramsay said.

The NHS will be in contact in autumn 2023 when the seasonal vaccine is available for those who are eligible due to health conditions or age, and the agency urged everyone who is offered to take up the vaccine when offered.

About 7 million people have died due to the COVID-19 virus which was declared as a pandemic by the WHO.

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