Wednesday 6 July 2022 12:06 PM Timelapse maps show how 'most contagious Covid yet' has become dominant in ... trends now
Covid's most contagious variant yet is now dominant in England, sequencing data shows as experts warn it could cause send infections to pandemic highs.
Data from the Sanger Institute, one of the UK's largest Covid surveillance centres, shows six in 10 positive swabs it examined in the week to June 25 were the BA.5 version of Omicron.
It has now officially taken over from BA.2, which caused infections to soar past 4million in April and prompted NHS bosses to call for the return of masks just days after No10 abandoned all restrictions to usher in the post-pandemic era.
BA.5 — which is also gathering steam in the US and across Europe — is thought to be a third more transmissible than its ancestor, dubbed just as infectious as measles. However, Government advisers believe it is just as mild.
Experts told MailOnline that the strain could push daily infections to a 'higher point than previously seen'.
Covid cases have more than doubled over the last month and NHS hospitals have seen admissions among infected patients increase by a third week-on-week.
In light of the current resurgence, officials are said to be considering expanding the autumn booster vaccine campaign to cover all over-50s.
Hours before resigning over a lack of confidence in Boris Johnson, ex-Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he had told the NHS to gear up for a wider programme than anticipated. Provisional guidance recommended restricting jabs to care home residents, over-65s, frontline health and social workers and vulnerable young people.
Data from the Sanger Institute shows BA.5 was behind 58.6 per cent of all infections it swabbed in the week to June 25 — up by a fifth from one week earlier when it caused 48.8 per cent of cases. Since the was first detected in South Africa in February it has raised concern over the speed of its growth. Sanger Institute figures shows its prevalence has nearly doubled every week. It caused just 5.8 per cent of infections in the week to May 21, rising to 10.4 per cent in the week May 28, 21.6 per cent up to June 4 and 36.6 per cent in the seven days to June 11
Covid infections have shot up in England to just over 1.8million according to the latest Office of National Statistics data
This graph shows the number of deaths directly due to Covid recorded in England and Wales. The number of deaths being recorded these nations currently is far below that of previous waves earlier year and a sheer fraction of those seen at the start of 2021
Hours before resigning over a lack of confidence in Boris Johnson, former Health Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured today) told the Cabinet that an extra six million people should be offered a fourth dose to control hospital admissions amid the increase in infection, over fears about crippling the NHS this winter
Over-50s are set to be offered a Covid booster jab as early as autumn as ministers plan the latest fightback against a surge in the number of infections.
Around six million people are understood to be in line for a fourth shot as the latest sub-variants of the Omicron strain continue to rapidly spread.
Outbreaks across Europe are being fuelled by Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, which are thought to be even more infectious than the BA.2 strain that caused infections in the UK to spiral to a record 4.1million in April.
Hospitalisations have trebled over the past month, with roughly 1,500 virus-infected patients now being taken to wards every day.
Former minister Sajid Javid had addressed cabinet colleagues about the recent spike in infections, but The Times reported no new restrictions are understood to be on the cards as of yet.
Mr Javid, who resigned as Health Secretary just hours after issuing his warning, had updated the cabinet about the Covid situation for the first time in months after infections soared in recent weeks.
Rather than ramp up any return of restrictions, health bosses are said to be prepared to encourage increased vaccination rates over autumn in time for any winter rush.
Since BA.5 was first detected in South Africa in February, experts have been concerned over the speed of its growth.
Data from the Sanger Institute shows it was behind 58.6 per cent of all infections in the week to June 25 — up by a fifth from one week earlier.
Until now, its prevalence had nearly doubled every week. It caused just 5.8 per cent of infections in mid-May.
Meanwhile, the separate but closely-related Omicron sub-strain BA.4, which was labelled as a variant of concern alongside BA.5, seems to have slowed.
It was behind just 25.8 per cent of cases in the most recent week, compared to 25.1 per cent one week earlier.
While this data provides the most up to date picture, the researchers noted the positive tests it sequences are not a representative sample of the population.
And ever since the Government's £2billion-a-month free testing scheme was axed, it has examined fewer swabs — which could raise discrepancies in its data.
However, figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) paint a similar picture.
In a report last week, it noted that BA.5 would 'most likely' become dominant in the UK, estimating that 39.5 per cent of all cases in England were caused by the strain by June 15. Its data shows BA.5 was most prevalent in the South East.
The UKHSA said BA.5's growth advantage over BA.2 would 'plausibly lead to increased community transmission'.
The formerly dominant strain caused Covid infections to soar to record highs in April. Virus-tracking data from the Office for National Statistics, now considered the best barometer for monitoring the outbreak, showed 4.1million people in England were infected during the last peak.
Its most recent update — based on tens of thousands of random swabs — show that roughly 1.8million were infected towards the end of June, up by a third on the previous week.
As well as the new variants, celebrations for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, half-term holidays and warm weather are also thought to be fuelling the latest surge. Some have also pointed to Britons mistaking Covid symptoms for hay fever.
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: 'At present it does look like BA.4/BA.5 together will push total new infections per day to a higher point than previously seen.'
But he added that that BA.5 may cause 'less severe disease on average per infection' compared to earlier strains, although it is too early to know for certain.
'But of course the total amount of severe disease depends on both the number of infections and the risk of severe disease per infection, so [it is] not yet [possible] to say have much severe disease/how many deaths will occur in total,' he added.
Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds, told MailOnline: 'We have known for some time now that another – the third – significant wave was due to hit the UK and we are now very much within it.'
He said it