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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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New COVID variants found in the UK and China; How to prepare for a new wave of infections

COVID-19
Posted at 3:12 PM, Apr 04, 2022

(WXYZ) — Two new COVID subvariants have been found – one in China and another in the United Kingdom. How dangerous are they and should the US be concerned?

The new omicron subtype found in China evolved from omicron’s BA.1.1 branch. It was first detected in a patient with a mild COVID case in the city of Suzhou, which borders Shanghai. Shanghai is currently experiencing a wave of infections, however, the new subtype is not believed to be behind the surge in cases.

As for the new subvariant in the United Kingdom, it’s been called XE. It’s a “recombinant”. It's a fancy term that tells us a person got infected with two viruses simultaneously. And as the viruses replicated, genetic material was mixed together, and a new variant was created. So XE is a recombinant of omicron’s BA.1 and BA.2 strains.

So, does that make it more contagious? Well, it's been estimated to be about 10% more transmissible than BA.2. Having said that, that number could change because there are only 637 cases in the UK as of March 22nd. So not enough data to truly know how contagious XE is at this point.

I think we should expect to see new waves of infections. That’s not to say we’ll have crazy high spikes as we had back in January. But already there's been an uptick of case numbers in some areas of the US, like in the Northeast. So, in my opinion, we all need to be prepared. Mostly because omicron’s highly contagious subvariant BA.2 is the dominant strain. And also because we’re seeing new subvariants pop up like in the UK and China.

So, here’s my advice:

  • Keep an eye on COVID-19 statistics in your county and wherever you may travel to. You can check out the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level map on their website – it shows new cases and hospital admissions.
  • Always have backup plans for indoor activities and travel plans in case numbers rise.
  • Order home COVID tests now so you have some on hand if family members get sick.
  • Make sure you have good quality masks available - N95 masks are highly protective, but any mask is better than no mask.
  • Lastly, get boosted. Everyone who is eligible should be boosted, but I am concerned for Americans over 65. Only 70% have got a booster shot which means there are a lot of older folks out there whose initial protection may have waned. And they’re now more vulnerable for severe illness.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.