Omicron XE: nearly 1,300 cases of new COVID variant detected in the UK - has it reached Liverpool?

XE combines elements of Stealth Omicron and original Omicron and it’s thought it could be more transmissible than both.

Almost 1,300 cases of the new XE Omicron Covid variant have been identified in the UK to date, according to figures published by the UK Healthy Security Agency (UKHSA).

XE is a mutation, or ‘recombinant’, which combines elements of two other Omicron sub variants – BA.2 (commonly dubbed Stealth Omicron) and BA.1, the original Omicron strain.

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The World Health Organisation has warned it could be more transmissible than the highly transmissible Stealth Omicron, which has been driving a recent surge in cases in the UK.

It was first detected in England in January, and is also known by its UKHSA designation, V-22APR-02.

UKHSA figures show as of 22 April, 1,293 cases of XE had been identified in England and one in Northern Ireland. No figures were reported for Scotland or Wales.

It is the first time XE cases have been included in the weekly variant surveillance report.

Not all Covid PCR tests are genomically sequenced to find what strain of coronavirus the person was infected with – and the number of tests being taken has plummeted since free testing ended in England at the start of April – so there will be more XE cases going undetected.

No local or regional figures are provided in UKHSA’s data.

However, genetics research group the Wellcome Sanger Institute, one of the bodies that does genetic sequencing for the UK government, does provide data on COVID variants in England, broken down by council area.

Their latest figures cover the week to 9 April, at which point it had identified 336 XE cases to date from genetically sequenced tests, the majority of them in March.

XE Omicron COVID in and Liverpool City Region

According to the figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute no XE cases have been detected in the Liverpool City Region as yet but there have been cases in the surrounding area.

In neighbouring city Manchester, four cases have been detected while in nearby Warrington and Chester the first cases of the XE variant have also been recorded.

This is a similar pattern to Wellcome Sanger’s data on the spread of Stealth Omicron, which was detected more widely in the surounding areas before moving on to Liverpool and becoming the dominant strain.

The first case of that BA.2 ‘stealth’ strain in the Liverpool City Region was found in Knowsley in late January but by March it accounted for more than 90% of cases.

Not all Covid PCR tests are genomically sequenced to find what strain of coronavirus the person was infected with – and the number of tests being taken has plummeted since free testing ended in England at the start of April – so there will be more XE cases going undetected.

The spread appears to be eminating from the south of England, with the London boroughs of Southwark and Lewisham recording the most cases at 25 and 20 respectively.