New Covid BA.2.86 variant with many mutations spreads into community hospitalising five people

Tests are ongoing to establish the severity of the new BA.2.86 Covid variant  (PA Archive)
Tests are ongoing to establish the severity of the new BA.2.86 Covid variant (PA Archive)

A new Covid variant with significant mutations is believed to have spread into “community transmission” with five people being hospitalised, health chiefs warned on Friday.

The UK Health Security Agency said 34 cases of the BA.2.86 strain had been detected in England including an outbreak, affecting 28 people, in a care home.

It added that it was now likely to be community transmission of this variant in the country.

The health chiefs stressed that there is currently not enough evidence to know if the variant has altered clinical severity or will predominate in the UK.

Further testing is ongoing

Out of the 34 cases, five indviduals were hospitalised and no deaths due to Covid-19 reported.

The UKHSA explained further that multiple unlinked cases in different regions without reported travel history suggests a degree of community transmission within the country.

Twenty-eight cases were from a single outbreak at a care home in Norfolk. Specialists from UKHSA have been working with Norfolk County Council to offer infection control advice and support.

Staff and residents of the care home were asked to undergo PCR testing by local health protection officials when an unusually high number of people became unwell. Positive samples were sent for whole genome sequencing at UKHSA laboratories, where BA.2.86 was confirmed in the majority of samples.

Dr Renu Bindra, Incident Director, UKHSA said: “While BA.2.86 is has a significant number of mutations to the viral genome compared to other currently circulating COVID variants, the data so far is too limited to draw firm conclusions about the impact this will have on the transmissibility, severity or immune escape properties of the virus.

“UKHSA scientists are working with international partners to culture the samples and analyse the evidence as it becomes available. However, it is likely to be some time before we have enough data to make a confident assessment.

“It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this. In the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.”

The care home outbreak suggest that BA.2.86, detected in a number of countries, may be sufficiently transmissible to have impact in close contact settings.

The Department of Health and Social Care announced last week that the autumn vaccine programme will be brought forward to 11 September as a precautionary measure following the emergence of BA.2.86.