Covid cases could soar across Midlands due to highly 'infectious' new strain, warns health expert
A new highly infectious Covid variant spreading across the UK has the potential to re-infect people, often within weeks of last catching it, according to a health expert.
Speaking to ITV Central, Prof Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, warned summer events could see cases soar further.
Prof Young said: "We're not in a situation where we are post-pandemic despite what we're hearing, certainly from some government sources - somehow that we're over this. We're not."
His comments come days after the latest figures showed Covid-19 infections had soared with more than 20,000 cases currently reported across the Midlands.
In the West Midlands, cases have doubled from 5,476 to 12,444 in the last month. In the East Midlands, this is similar with cases up to 11,098 from 5,131 on 12 June.
The UK is currently in its fifth wave of Covid-19 infections.
It's all down to to two new sub-variants of Omicron, called BA.4 and BA.5, which now make up more than half of all new Covid-19 cases in England.
Prof Young described the two strains of Omicron as 'brother and sister'
He warned the two new sub-variants - BA.4 and BA.5 - are leading to a worrying rise in cases across the Midlands.
The two new strains were originally detected in South Africa earlier this year, with Prof Young describing them as "brothers and sisters" of the Omicron variant, which spread across the UK at the end of 2021.
He said: "They are much more infectious and they are able to dodge around the body's immune system.
"And that's why we're seeing many more infections, even around people who've been vaccinated and previously infected.
"This is resulting in very high rates of people getting re-infected. Often, after a month or so after their previous infection."
He added that it was vital for those who are particularly susceptible to ensure they get their Covid booster jab as well as considering wearing masks in crowded places.
What are BA.4 and BA.5?
BA.4 and BA.5 are newer Omicron strains that were recently classified as “variants of concern”, after analysis found both were likely to have a “growth advantage” over BA.2.
They are now thought to be the most dominant variants in the UK and responsible for a surge in infections, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
They same mutations as the original Omicron variant, but have more in common with the BA.2 variant, previously referred to as "stealth Omicron".
They are the latest variants of Covid-19 that is, like all viruses, continuing to adapt to an increasingly immune population.
But there are notable differences, specifically that their spike proteins - the part of the virus that attaches to receptors on human cells - are different.