Five Brits have already caught what is thought to be the most contagious version of Omicron yet.
The BA.2.12.1 sub-strain already makes up a fifth of cases in the US, in a sign of what could come in Britain.
Little is known about the new version of the virus, though it is believed to have an up to 27 per cent growth advantage over BA.2, which was behind the latest surge in UK cases and is itself a subvariant of Omicron.
However, top scientists insist there is no evidence that BA.2.12.1 is more severe than its mild predecessor.
British experts told MailOnline they are not concerned by its emergence because of the UK’s high levels of immunity following the recent domestic surge.
Little is known about the BA.2.12.1 version of the virus, though it is believed to have an up to 27 per cent growth advantage over the original version of BA.2, though there is no evidence that it is more severe than its predecessor
Data from the website covSPECTRUM, which provides variant information based on Covid samples sequenced by scientists in the UK and around the world, suggest BA.2.12 has been detected five times in the UK. It suggests the first case was detected on the week of March 21 and the latest case was on the week of April 4. The international database shows the first case was detected in Canada in the week of January 17
The BA.2.12.1 strain (red) of Omicron has now been recognized as a variant of concern by the US CDC and made up a fifth of cases sequenced nationally, according to the agency’s most recent update
Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), which analyses positive samples, says the variant was first detected from a PCR taken on March 23.
Separate data from the website covSPECTRUM, which collates variant information, shows it has been detected five times in the UK.
It suggests the first case was detected on the week of March 21 and the latest case was on the week of April 4.
But the true number of Britons infected with the sub-strain is likely to be higher.
The international database suggests the first BA.2.12.1 case was detected in Canada in the week of January 17.
BA.2.12.1 (red) makes up more than half of Covid cases in the New York and New Jersey region, the only place where it has overtaken the stealth variant as the nation’s dominant strain. It was also first detected in New York last week
Only 14 U.S. counties are still considered to be an area of ‘high’ Covid risk, per CDC data, with nearly all being in New York – where the new strain was initially detected
Britain’s Covid resurgence is now receding on ALL fronts
Britain’s Covid resurgence is now receding on all three fronts, according to official figures that suggest deaths have finally peaked.
UK Health Security Agency bosses logged 116,227 today, with the bumper toll covering the entire Bank Holiday weekend. It means roughly 26,000 Britons are now testing positive for the virus every day, down 31 per cent on last Tuesday’s rolling average.
Experts say the daily counts are now ‘completely irrelevant’, however, because they rely entirely on testing.
Meanwhile, the most up-to-date statistics show another 2,083 Covid ‘patients’ were admitted to hospitals across the UK last Monday, marking an 8.5 per cent week-on-week fall.
And a further 482 fatalities were reported today, down three per cent on last week. But that toll is artificially high because it also covers five days.
Both hospital and death figures are counts of patients who have tested positive for the virus, and don’t necessarily equate to patients who have been killed or left severely ill from the illness. More than half of Covid patients in NHS wards are primarily being treated for other reasons, like a broken leg, and the virus is not the underlying cause of death in up to a third of all fatalities.
It was then spotted in labs in Australia and Luxembourg a week later, before taking off in the US. Sequencing data also suggests it has been spotted in Israel, Denmark and Austria.
It comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday recognised BA.2.12.1 in its weekly US virus surveillance report for the first time.
BA.2.12.1 has been labelled a variant of concern in the US, where it makes up 19 per cent of cases nationally.
It is the third sub-variant of the virus to receive this categorisation.
And the strain is already dominant in a region of the country that includes New York and New Jersey, where it makes up 52.3 per cent of cases and infections have grown 66 per cent week-on-week.
However, BA.2 remains the dominant strain across the rest of the US, accounting for around three-quarters of cases.
The detection of the virus in the UK comes after gold-standard surveillance data last week suggests the latest Omicron wave had peaked.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysts believe infections in England peaked at 4.1million in the week to March 26 before dropping to 3.8million in the week to April 9.
Experts claim the latest surge was triggered by the scrapping of restrictions and the emergence of BA.2.
The detection of BA.2.12.1 comes after the UK scrapped free swabs for all on April 1, with only the elderly, most vulnerable and NHS workers able to access the tests for free. Most Britons now have to pay £2 change for a lateral flow at pharmacies.
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist based at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline it ‘too early to say’ whether BA.2.12.1 will take off in the UK.
He said it will come down to whether the strain is so much more transmissible than other variants in circulation that it ‘reverses the current decline in the daily rate of new infections’.
‘Personally I doubt that, as existing immunity following recent Omicron infections will be relatively high,’ Professor Hunter added.
‘But we will need to see what happens over coming weeks.’
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, told MailOnline: ‘The BA.2.12.1 sub-variant appears to be even more contagious than previous variants and is spreading rapidly in parts of the US.
UK Health Security Agency bosses logged 116,227 today, with the bumper toll covering the entire Bank Holiday weekend. It means roughly 26,000 Britons are now testing positive for the coronavirus every day, down 31 per cent on last Tuesday’s rolling average. Day-to-day counts are higher today than last Tuesday because of the Bank Holiday weekend’s lack of recording
Meanwhile, the most up-to-date statistics show another 2,083 Covid ‘patients’ were admitted to hospitals across the UK last Monday, marking an 8.5 per cent fall on the rolling daily average. The week-on-week fall was slightly higher
And a further 482 fatalities were reported today, with the overall trend being down 3 per cent on last week. But that toll is artificially high because it also covers five days. Day-to-day counts are higher today than last Tuesday because of the Bank Holiday weekend’s lack of recording
‘There is no evidence this sub-variant is any more virulent in terms of severe disease.
‘Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that new variants will be less infectious and less dangerous.
‘Vaccine-induced immunity wanes and current vaccines may not be as protective against these new variants.’
He said the strain ’emphasises the need for people to continue to remain vigilant and not ignore public health measures’, such as wearing face masks in crowded spaces, ventilate indoor areas and focus on global vaccination.
These measures are ‘vital in restricting the spread of the virus’, Professor Young said.
He warned it is ‘inevitable’ Covid will throw up new variants as the virus continues to spread and replicate, ‘particularly in populations who are under-vaccinated’.
And these variants ‘will remain a continual threat even to those countries with high rates of vaccination’, he added.