TWO strains of Omicron that originated in South Africa have been labelled Covid “variants of concern”, health officials have revealed.
Variants BA4 and BA5 may be able to evade vaccines and are likely to dominate Europe’s Covid cases, The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned in a report.
Concerns are now rocketing that the new variants will lead to a massive uptick in cases across the continent this summer.
The ECDC said: “The presence of these variants could cause a significant overall increase in Covid-19 cases in the EU/EEA in the coming weeks and months.
“The overall proportion of BA.4 and BA.5 in the EU/EEA is currently low but the high growth advantages reported suggest that these variants will become dominant in the EU/EEA in the coming months.”
Experts at the Centre predict “increased hospital and ICU admissions is likely to follow” if infections rise as they made their grim forecast.
As a result, the EU body is now urging all countries to “remain vigilant” for signs that the strains are emerging.
And they are pleading with over 80s to get a second booster jab to protect themselves.
Over 60s and other vulnerable groups should also be in the firing line for a second booster, the ECDC added.
Concerningly, two cases of the new variants were detected in the UK this week.
The BA4 and BA5 strains were first detected in South Africa in January and February of this year respectively.
They have since become the dominant strain in that country.
Cases began to rise following the emergence of the strain in the country.
It has sparked concern a fifth Covid wave could begin in the country as early as next month, as the country heads into winter.
While BA5 is expected to be the most common variant in Portugal by May 22, health officials fear.
Both new variants of concern can evade immunity given by both a previous Covid infection and a vaccine.
The ECDC added this is likely “particularly if this [immunity] is waned over time”.
Despite the warnings the report said there was currently “no indication of any change in severity for BA4/BA5 compared to previous Omicron lineages”.
VARIANT IN UK
Another Covid variant, named XE, is also under close watch by UK Health Security Agency.
It may spread 10 per cent faster than the current strain but scientists said they are still studying it.
XE combines the two Omicron strains BA.1 and BA.2, making it a so-called recombinant variant.
There are around 1,200 cases of XE in the UK, mostly in England.
It comes as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates 1.2million, or one in 45 people, were carrying the virus on any given day in the week to May 7.
This was down a quarter on the previous week.
The same estimates reckoned one in 35 people were carrying Covid in Wales and Scotland last week and one in 55 in Northern Ireland.
177,000 Brits have died from Coronavirus since the outbreak of the pandemic.
As of Friday May 13, a further 6,506 positive coronavirus cases were recorded, according to Government Figures.
There were 151 deaths recorded within 28-days of a positive test.