Omicron XE: hundreds of cases of new coronavirus variant found in UK

Covid rates have hit record in Britain with new sub-variant thought to be responsible

Oxford Street, London, on April 1. Getty
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There has been a surge in cases of the new Omicron sub-variant XE in the UK, reaching a record high for the pandemic.

The Office for National Statistics reported that 4.9 million people in the UK had the coronavirus as of last weekend.

The relaxing of Covid restrictions and the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant are thought to be responsible for the rise in infections.

What is Omicron XE?

Omicron XE is a combination of Omicron BA.1 and BA.2, but with three separate and distinct mutations.

The World Health Organisation said last week that the XE recombinant could be more transmissible and was first detected in the UK on January 19.

“Early day estimates indicate a community growth rate advantage of 10 per cent as compared to BA.2, however this finding requires further confirmation,” the WHO's report said.

“XE belongs to the Omicron variant until significant differences in transmission and disease characteristics, including severity, may be reported.”

The UK Health Security Agency said on Monday that the most recent data showed XE had a growth rate 9.8 per cent above BA.2.

But it cautioned that “as this estimate has not remained consistent as new data have been added, it cannot yet be interpreted as an estimate of growth advantage for the recombinant".

“Numbers were too small for the XE recombinant to be analysed by region,” the agency said.

How many have Omicron XE?

So far, 637 XE cases have been identified in the UK, but the true figure is likely to be much higher as the UK has abolished free tests and reduced testing centres.

However, the statistics office says 4.9 million people in the UK have Covid, so the true figure is thought to be much higher than just the number of identified cases.

What are the symptoms?

The new XE sub-variant is thought to have similar symptoms to the original Omicron variant.

They include a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat, which differs from the original strain of the virus that left sufferers with fever, coughs and a loss of taste or smell.

What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?

A vial and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed South Africa flag and words "Omicron SARS-CoV-2" in this illustration taken, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The National Health Service updated its general list of coronavirus symptoms on Monday to include nine new signs of illness.

People are now being advised to look out for shortness of breath, feeling tired or exhausted, an aching body, a headache, a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, feeling sick or vomiting.

Updated: April 22, 2022, 8:22 AM