A coronavirus strain branded ‘stealth Omicron’ has been found in Greater Manchester.
Cases of the Omicron sub-variant BA.2 have been in the UK for some time - the first example was found on 6 December, 2021.
The UK Health Security Agency named it a ‘variant under investigation’ on 21 January.
Early analysis suggests it has a faster growth rate than the Omicron strain currently dominant in the UK, BA.1, but there is not enough evidence to say whether it causes more severe illness.
However, the numbers of cases of the variant in Greater Manchester are currently quite low.
What did the data show?
It found one in 100 samples were now stealth Omicron across England.
Of the 10 Greater Manchester boroughs the highest rate was 2% in Oldham, with four of the 204 samples analysed where a variant was successfully identifying being stealth Omicron.
There were three cases in Trafford, accounting for 1.1% of samples where a variant could be worked out and four in Manchester, making up 0.9% of the samples successfully analysed for a variant.
A single case of ‘stealth Omicron’ was also identified in Salford, Rochdale, Tameside and Wigan.
What is stealth Omicron and where did it come from?
It is not known where Stealth Omicron originated, with the first cases found in the Philippines and high numbers being reported in Denmark.
It got its nickname because it does not exhibit a tell-tale marker on its spike protein, revealed through a common type of PCR test, which the authorities had previously used to monitor the spread of Omicron.
But both PCR and lateral flow tests still identify Covid infection.
What has been said about stealth Omicron?
Dr Meera Chand, Covid-19 incident director at the UKHSA, said: “It is the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it’s to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge as the pandemic goes on.
“Our continued genomic surveillance allows us to detect them and assess whether they are significant.
“So far, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron BA.1, but data is limited and UKHSA continues to investigate.”
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are learning to live with this virus – and thanks to our world-leading surveillance system we can rapidly detect and carefully monitor any genetic changes to Covid-19.
“Our exceptional vaccine rollout means the number of people severely affected by Covid-19 is low, and the UK’s innovation and research has discovered life-saving treatments for those most at risk from Covid-19.”