Introducing 'COVID XE': New Mutant Strain Found In UK As WHO Warns It's More Contagious Than Omicron

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Apr 05, 2022 - 08:15 AM

As China and Hong Kong continue to struggle with the worst COVID outbreak since Wuhan, the West has mentally moved on from COVID. That being said, COVID still isn't quite done with the West. Or at least that's what the 'experts' are saying.

As cases, hospitalizations, and even deaths have begun to creep higher once again in the US, Europe and the UK (for Americans, this trend has been made more visible by a flurry of headlines warning that senior Democrats have curiously tested positive, including Bill and Hillary Clinton) a new variant has recently been confirmed in the UK.

The new mutant, called XE, may be more transmissible than any strain of COVID so far, according to the WHO and local health authorities in the UK.

XE is a "recombinant" strain - that is, a mutation that combines features of the BA.1 and BA.2 omicron sub-strans. Recombinant mutations emerge when a patient is infected by multiple variants of COVID at the same time. The variants interbreed and combine their genetic material during replication, forming an entirely new mutated strain. A team of researchers from the UK said as much in a paper released this week.

The UK's health agency said that XE was first detected on Jan. 19. Since then, 637 cases of the new variant have been reported.

Authorities said 4.9 million people in the UK are believed to have contracted COVID in the week ending March 26 - that's 600,000 more than the previous week.

Despite the increasingly widespread use of home COVID tests, which make it increasingly difficult for authorities to track the true number o infections, global COVID cases on Sunday topped 490 million, according to the John Hopkins University data. Meanwhile, the world has confirmed over 6.15 million deaths attributed to the virus (although in many cases patients were counted as 'COVID deaths' even if they died from something unrelated - just because they tested positive for the virus).

Instead of rushing to label XE as a 'variant of concern' (which would entail bestowing the strain with its own Greek letter name), the WHO says the new strain will be counted as omicron until further notice.

In the US, states like New York and California have seen an increase in new cases, but the degree to which XE is contributing to this is unclear (if it's contributing at all). At least one case of the new strain has been confirmed in Thailand. But one Asian viral expert told Bloomberg that there's no need to panic about the new variant - at least not yet.

"We should monitor the new recombinants closely, but we should not panic at the moment," said Leo Poon, a virologist and University of Hong Kong professor who has tracked and written reports on the emergence of new strains.

It’s not unexpected to see Covid recombinant variants, or a mix of two previous strains, particularly since the delta and omicron strains have been circulating widely, he said. It’s likely that some people would be infected by both strains. If a variant were to be detected in multiple regions and was spreading in the community, then that would be of concern, he said.

Finally, an epidemiological update published March 29 by the WHO estimated that XE could be as much as 10% more transmissible than BA.2. However, these findings require further confirmation.