Sir David Jason says he had ‘seriously bad’ Covid

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A “big wave” of a new Covid variant is sweeping across Asia and has become the dominant subvariant in Singapore, but while the UK may be well protected against this strain, another wave of the virus could be on the way this winter, a professor has told Express.co.uk. While COVID-19 cases in Britain are beginning to surge, with 1.5million – or one in 35 people – in private households in England testing positive for the virus in the week up to October 3, the UK appears to be faring better than a number of other nations at this present moment as new variants emerge around the world. The Omicron XBB subvariant was first detected in India, back in August, but has since been detected in more than 17 countries.

Now, it has become the dominant wave in Singapore, accounting for 54 percent of local cases during the week of 3 to 9 October. 

Prof Francois Balloux, Director of the UCL Genetics Institute, told Express.co.uk: “Singapore is currently experiencing a big wave of cases caused by the XBB lineage. It is relatively unlikely XBB will also become dominant in Europe, where BQ.1.1 is currently the most successful lineage.

“Singapore is unusual insofar as it experienced many Omicron BA.1 cases, whereas the bulk of Omicron infections globally was caused by BA.2 and its offshoots (which include BA.4, BA.5 and all other strains currently in circulation, such as XBB and BQ.1.1).

“People who got infected by Omicron BA.1 are less well protected against the strains currently in circulation than those who caught BA.2.”

XBB is considered one of the “new class” of Omicron variants that is quickly spreading, along with BQ.1.1, BQ.1, BQ.1.3, BA.2.3.20. 

Amesh Adalja, a public-health expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Daily Beast: “It is likely the most immune-evasive [subvariant] and poses problems for current monoclonal antibody-based treatments and prevention strategy. 

“Even with immune-evasive variants, vaccine protection against what matters most – severe disease – remains intact.”

XBB is a hybrid version of two strains of the BA.2 sublineage of Omicron and is also thought to have the strongest ability to evade antibody protections out of the newly emerging variants, according to a pre-print study by China-based scientists. 

Prof Thomas Russo, chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Prevention that while “these variants are evolving to evade protection”, he argued booster shots are “likely going to be protective against severe disease”. However, he added that with the XBB strain, a booster jab will be “imperfect against preventing infection”. 

Despite this, experts agree that Omicron boosters do provide a certain level of effectiveness against the subvariants. With regard to the XBB wave in Singapore, health authorities in the nation believe the wave will be “short but sharp”. 

Singapore health minister Ong Ye Kung told a press conference that cases are expected to peak in mid-November, with around 15,000 daily cases on average by this period. 

And while XBB is yet to rip through Europe, BQ.1.1, which is referred to as the close cousin of XBB, has started to spread across the continent and it has also arrived in the US. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CBS News an interview about BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, that “the bad news is that there’s a new variant that’s emerging and that has qualities or characteristics that could evade some of the interventions we have”.  

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“But, the somewhat encouraging news is that it’s a BA.5 sublineage, so there are almost certainly going to be some cross-protection that you can boost up.”

However, Prof Balloux explained that the current levels of immunisation due to vaccination and prior infection should hold up well against “current strains in circulation”, although he did warn over another wave of Covid hitting the UK this winter. 

He explained: “We can anticipate another wave this winter. Every wave leads to additional hospitalisations and deaths. Though, unless there will be another major evolutionary shift in the virus, such as the emergence of the Alpha, Delta or Omicron variants, Covid mortality this coming winter won’t be back to what we experienced earlier in the pandemic.

“As long as we’re facing offshoots of the current Omicron strains in circulation, current levels of immunisation due to vaccination and prior infection should hold up well.”

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