Deltacron Covid-19 variant identified as World Health Organization issues warning over scaling back of testing
Deltacron has been identified as the latest new Covid-19 variant - and the World Health Organization has warned that plans to scale back mass testing will give us less visibility as the virus continues to evolve.
England’s free mass testing programme will end on April 1 for everyone but some health workers and the most vulnerable.
There is already no legal requirement to isolate if you have Covid-19 - although it is advised - and many people have abandoned wearing masks.
The impact of the ending of restrictions has been a rapid rise in cases and increasing hospitalisations.
A new variant has also been confirmed - here is what we know about it.
What is Deltacron?
Deltacron - as the name suggests - is a Covid-19 variant which is carrying genes from both the Delta and Omicron strains of Covid-19.
Known as a recombinant virus, Deltacron arises when more than one variant of the Covid-19 virus infects the same cells of somebody at the same time.
Where has it been found?
Deltacron is now thought to have been circulating in France, possibly since the start of the year. There have also been a number of cases identified in the United States, with that figure expected to rise, and in Denmark and the Netherlands too.
The UK Health Security Agency says a case of Deltacron has been identified in the UK in an individual unlucky enough to catch both strains of the virus at the same time. But more are likely to be circulating — with the i newspaper reporting that health experts are expected to confirm this week more instances of person-to-person transmission of Deltacron cases in this country.
What appears to be less clear is whether every patient who has been identified so far as having Deltacron is carrying the exact same make-up of the new secondary hybrid strain or whether they have taken different aspects of the two main strains at the point they are infected.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said a rise in coronavirus infections was expected following the easing of restrictions in England.
But the scale of that increase - 43 per cent in a week in Cambridgeshire and 56.3 per cent nationally - is causing concern among NHS leaders.
Why the concern over Deltacron?
The concern with any new Covid-19 variants, as when Omicron emerged last year, is whether they prove better at evading people’s existing immunity from the vaccination programme or previous infection.
The government has argued the country was in a strong enough position to peel back its final restrictions despite the risk of new variants developing.
It is hopes that with immunity against Delta and Omicron strains, which continue to spread, scientists watching the emergence of Deltacron hope a combination of the two viruses will not pose a greater danger to the vaccines already in existence.
Concern from WHO
But the World Health Organization has issued a strong word of caution.
Confirming that cases of Deltracron have been identified in Europe, the WHO expressed concern at those nations, such as England, planning to scale back coronavirus testing regimes because of the impact it will have on the ability to identify new variants in circulation.
Scotland and Wales are also expected to wind down their testing plans over the coming months albeit at a slower pace than that outlined by Westminster.
WHO president Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “The WHO is concerned that several countries are drastically reducing testing.
“This inhibits our ability to see where the virus is, how it’s spreading and how it’s evolving. Testing remains a vital tool in our fight against the pandemic.”