Jonathan Van-Tam: UK is 'running hot' with COVID-19 cases

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The recently-named AY.43 subvariant of Covid has infected more than 8,000 people in England since its appearance this summer. Globally, AY.43 has already infected more than 80,000 people. The virus is an offshoot or “lineage” of the Delta variant, which has been the leading cause of infections around the globe.

Although researchers believe the subvariant does not presently pose any increased danger to public health, officials have been told to monitor it closely.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, told MailOnline: “It seems to have been around for quite a long time and not taken off.”

Other experts have assured the virus is not yet as widespread in the UK as in other countries.

According to Dr Jeffrey Barret of the Sanger Institute, it is presently “enriched in a somewhat odd set of patches” just outside of Greater London.

He said: “This lineage is much more common outside of the UK, so there could be a variety of introductions from abroad that have coincidentally grown a bit.

“It has been growing in Denmark, France, Belgium and Germany, which could be a biological advantage, or just the fact that those countries are being hit with Delta case growth.”

The AY.43 subvariant carries a unique mutation known as N:Q9l, which Dr Jeffrey dubbed “unusual” but there is no evidence yet to suggest it makes the virus more transmissible than Delta.

A more worrying subvariant is the A.Y.4.2 or “Delta Plus” virus which, according to researchers at Northumbria University, can be traced to the first Delta lineages discovered in April this year.

Last month, Northumbria researchers Matthew Bashton and Darren Smith said scientists have already identified 75 AY lineages of Delta, each with “additional defining mutations in their genome”.

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In a report published on October 25, they said: “One of these – AY.4.2 – has been steadily growing in proportion in the UK over the last few months, accounting for 63 percent of new UK cases in the last 28 days.”

Scientists raised the alarm on the mutated virus last month, prompting fears the nation was heading into a winter lockdown.

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Although the Government has ruled out putting the nation on hold for the fourth time, health experts have highlighted the virus’s increased transmissibility when compared to the Delta variant of coronavirus.

According to Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, the virus has a transmission advantage over Delta of up to 18 percent.

Compared to the Alpha variant, Delta was about 60 percent more transmissible.

Professor Pagel told CNBC: “It looks like it has somewhere between a 12 percent and 18 percent transmission advantage over Delta, so it’s not good news in that sense.

“It’s going to make things a bit more difficult, but it’s not a massive jump.”

On October 20, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) gave the A.Y.4.2 subvariant the official name VUI-21OCT-01.

The health agency warned “this sub-lineage has become increasingly common in the UK in recent months, and there is some early evidence that it may have an increased growth rate in the UK compared to Delta”.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said: “The public health advice is the same for all current variants.

“Get vaccinated and, for those eligible, come forward for your third or booster dose as appropriate as soon as you are called.

“Continue to exercise caution. Wear a mask in crowded spaces and, when meeting people indoors, open windows and doors to ventilate the room.”

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