New ‘stealth Omicron’ variant hits UK but NOT currently on Tyneside

There’s only two cases across the whole of the North East
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A coronavirus strain branded 'stealth Omicron' has been detected in several UK authorities.

The variant was first found on December 6, 2021 but a recent spike in cases has led to the UK Health Security Agency naming it a 'variant under investigation'.

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Early analysis suggests it has a faster growth rate than the Omicron strain that has been dominant in the UK, but there is not enough evidence to say whether it causes more severe illness.

The worst affected area in the country is Harrow in London, where nine positive cases of the 'stealth' strain have been recorded.

That makes up 4% of total positive cases in Harrow, with Rushmoor in the South East recording the highest percentage with 9.1% of all cases down to the new variant.

The North East need not worry yet, however, with not a single positive test being registered as the variant across Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Gateshead.

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In fact, Northumberland is the only authority across the whole of the North East with the strain.

Northumberland registered just two positive cases, making up for 1% of the authority's total positive Covid-19 tests.

It is not known where Stealth Omicron originated, with the first cases found in the Philippines and high numbers being reported in Denmark.

It got its nickname because it does not exhibit a tell-tale marker on its spike protein, revealed through a common type of PCR test, which the authorities had previously used to monitor the spread of Omicron.

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But both PCR and lateral flow tests still identify Covid infection.

Dr Meera Chand, COVID-19 Incident Director at the UKHSA, said: “It is the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it’s to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge as the pandemic goes on.

“Our continued genomic surveillance allows us to detect them and assess whether they are significant.

“So far, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron BA.1, but data is limited and UKHSA continues to investigate.”

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Health secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are learning to live with this virus – and thanks to our world-leading surveillance system we can rapidly detect and carefully monitor any genetic changes to COVID-19.

“Our exceptional vaccine rollout means the number of people severely affected by COVID-19 is low, and the UK’s innovation and research has discovered life-saving treatments for those most at risk from COVID-19.”

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