A HYBRID Covid variant of Delta and Omicron has been confirmed by scientists – as immunity starts to wane in the UK.
Dubbed “Deltacron”, the new strain combines features of both lineages, but it is not known if it’s any more dangerous.
A Covid hybrid variant has been detected in Europe, including in the UKCredit: Getty
At least 41 patients with Deltacron Covid, first flagged in January, have been identified in the US and Europe.
A “very small” number of cases have been detected in the UK, health chiefs told The Sun, with more details to be reported in a briefing tomorrow.
In February, the UK Health Security Agency classed the variant as a “signal under investigation”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it is “tracking and discussing” the variant’s properties.
It comes as hospitalisations in the UK show an uptick, feared to be driven by waning immunity in the elderly.
It will fuel the Government to get going on its spring booster vaccine programme. Although no date for the rollout has been announced.
Historically, a surge in hospital admissions follows that of cases, which has not been reported on the coronavirus dashboard.
But experts say infections are several times higher than the dashboard portrays, after testing has been largely scaled back since the Omicron wave.
The ZOE Covid Symptom Study estimates almost 175,200 people are catching Covid each day – 20 per cent higher in one week.
The figure is more than five times higher than the daily confirmed cases reported each day on the dashboard.
Professor Tim Spector, co-founder and scientist of ZOE, said: “The ‘official’ UK dashboard rate that continues to provide a misleading picture of the pandemic in the UK and should be scrapped.
“The major increase in new cases across the country and in the elderly is a worry, especially as we now see an uptick in hospitalisations for the first time.
“This increase was predicted when all restrictions were lifted.
“We are likely to continue to see high infection and prevalence rates of 1 in 30 people for the foreseeable future.”
Confirmation of the new Deltacron variant comes after several reports from scientists across the world.
A total of 39 cases have been uploaded to GISAID, the virus data bulletin board, 30 of which are in France, eight in Denmark and one in the Netherlands.
Three patients in France were reported in a paper posted onto medRxiv – a website for scientific papers waiting peer review – on Tuesday.
Lead author of the paper, Philippe Colson of IHU Mediterranee Infection in Marseille, said it was too soon to know the threat of Deltacron, as there are not enough cases to study.
Another two unrelated Deltacron infections have been identified in the US, according to an unpublished report by genetics research company Helix seen by Reuters.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, wrote on Twitter that recombinants “are to be expected, especially with intense circulation of Omicron and Delta”.
Recombinants are created when two viruses infect one cell and their genetic material jumbles, creating a new variant. It is part of the evolution of the virus.
It’s the “first solid evidence” that Deltracron exists, commented virologist Jeremy Kamil on Twitter.
Back in January, scientists disputed that Deltacron was real, claiming that it had been created by mistakes in a lab.
It came after a research team at the University of Cyprus warned they had detected 25 cases of Deltacron.
The new strain comes amid a backdrop of growing Covid infections and severe illness in over-55s.
The spike is being blamed on waning immunity, given that many will now be eligible for their fourth Covid dose, which is not yet available.
Spring boosters will be given to people once six months have passed since their original booster. These started being given out seven months ago, in September.
Protection is thought to last around six months. Even though any drop in jab efficacy will be marginal, on a population scale, it could lead to a change in hospital admissions.
At the same time, a more faster spreading Covid strain is now dominant in England – BA.2, a more infectious “sister” strain of Omicron.
However, Covid cases have still plummeted by more than a third since the peak at the start of the year, according to Britain’s biggest virus infection survey.
The React study, by Imperial College London, said around 2.88 per cent of people had Covid between February 8 and March 1.
It’s significantly down on the 4.41 per cent in early January.
It means around one in 35 people were infected with the virus in England during this period – similar to ZOE’s predictions.
Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UKHSA, warned: “However, the increasing presence of the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron and the recent slight increase in infections in those over 55 show that the pandemic is not over and that we can expect to see COVID circulating at high levels.”