September 23, 2023

Scientists have suggested Brits may need to don masks again as a new variant of Covid-19 is recorded in multiple countries.

Dubbed BA.X, online virus trackers have found the virus in Denmark and Israel, although this has not yet been independently verified.

Some scientists are already calling for new measures to be introduced – but others say it is too early to determine whether the variant could lead to another pandemic.

Dr Trisha Greenhalgh, an internationally-renowned expert in primary care, based at the University of Oxford, tweeted: “It looks like it’s once again time to MASK UP”.

Meanwhile, Professor Christina Pagel, a mathematician from University College London who sits on Independent SAGE, said: “To everyone else — very very early days but this coronavirus variant (now in 2 countries) has a LOT of new mutations that makes it v different to previous Omicron strains.”

She added this variant was “potentially more able to cause a big wave”.

The strain was originally highlighted by online Covid variant tracker Ryan Hisner, who tweeted “this is the real deal”.

The new variant is not the same as EG.5.1, which was recently designated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a “variant of interest” after it was spotted in 51 countries.

It has been dubbed “BA.X” for now until it is clear where the variant has come from, said Canadian evolutionary biologist T. Ryan Gregory.

He said of the strain: “Bear in mind, there are only a few sequences of it so far and it may not be able to compete with currently dominant variants and may not take off. But it’s interesting and potentially concerning.”

He added that the fact that BA.X had been spotted in multiple countries was “concerning because it’s clearly not restricted to one region”, and may yet be “going undetected in some countries”.

However, it is not yet clear of the severity of infection from BA.X, and it’s potential link to the Omicron variant means vaccines could well be effective against it.

Professor Stephen Griffin, an infectious disease expert at the University of Leeds, told the Daily Mail the variant “represents a far greater change in the genetic makeup of the virus” and is “reminiscent of the first emergence” of Omicron in late 2021.

He added: “It is too early to tell whether this ‘jump’ in evolution will lead to a virus ‘fit’ enough to dominate in the same way as BA.1 and BA.2 and other variants of concern once did, but there are a number of mutations that may cause concern if it does start to spread.”

The best way to prepare for the consequences of this variant would be a “combined vaccine and mitigation-based approach”, the professor said, although he added: “Worryingly, in the UK, we are currently winding both of these aspects down.”