COVID-19 Variants Identified In The UK – Latest Updates - 24 June 2022
UKHSA issues COVID-19 vaccination reminder as Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 become dominant in the UK, driving increase in infections
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is reminding people to ensure their COVID-19 vaccinations are up to date and to continue following COVID-safe behaviours, as latest technical data indicates BA.4 and BA.5 have become dominant in the UK and are driving the recent increase in infections.
The UKHSA’s COVID-19 variant technical briefing 43, published today, includes epidemiological analysis that shows that Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 now make up more than half of new COVID-19 cases in England, accounting for approximately 22% and 39% of cases, respectively.
Omicron BA.4 and Omicron BA.5 were designated as variants of concern on 18 May on the basis of an apparent growth advantage over the previously-dominant Omicron BA.2 variant.
UKHSA’s latest analysis suggests that Omicron BA.5 is growing 35.1% faster than Omicron BA.2, while Omicron BA.4 is growing approximately 19.1% faster. This suggests that BA.5 is likely to become the dominant COVID-19 variant in the UK.
The increasing prevalence of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 is likely to be a factor in the recent increase in cases seen in the UK and elsewhere, though there is currently no evidence that Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 cause more severe illness than previous variants.
So far, vaccination means that the rise in cases is not translating to a rise in severe illness and deaths. UKHSA scientists are urging anyone who has not had all the vaccines they are eligible for to make sure that they get them as soon as possible.
COVID-19 has not gone away, so it is also vitally important that people continue to follow the guidance. Stay at home if you have any respiratory symptoms or a fever and limit contact with others until you are feeling better, particularly if they are likely to be at greater risk if they contract COVID-19.
Professor Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor at UKHSA said:
"It is clear that the increasing prevalence of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 are significantly increasing the case numbers we have observed in recent weeks. We have seen a rise in hospital admissions in line with community infections but vaccinations are continuing to keep ICU admissions and deaths at low levels.
"As prevalence increases, it’s more important than ever that we all remain alert, take precautions, and ensure that we’re up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, which remain our best form of defence against the virus. It’s not too late to catch up if you’ve missed boosters, or even first doses so please take your recommended vaccines.
"Our data also show that 17.5 per cent of people aged 75 years and over have not had a vaccine within the past six months, putting them more at risk of severe disease. We urge these people in particular to get up-to-date.
"If you have any symptoms of a respiratory infection, and a high temperature or feel unwell, try to stay at home or away from others – especially those who are elderly or vulnerable. Face coverings in crowded indoor spaces and hand washing will help to reduce transmission of infection and are especially important if you have any respiratory symptoms."
UKHSA encourage everyone to continue to follow the most up-to date guidance.
As we learn to live safely with COVID-19, there are actions we can all take to help reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 and passing it on to others.
The risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 is greatest when someone who is infected is physically close to, or sharing an enclosed or poorly ventilated space with, other people.
You will not always know whether someone you come into contact with is at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from respiratory infections, including COVID-19. They could be strangers (for example people you sit next to on public transport) or people you may have regular contact with (for example friends and work colleagues).
There are simple things you can do in your daily life that will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections and protect those at highest risk.
Things you can choose to do are:
let fresh air in if meeting others indoors
practise good hygiene:
wash your hands
cover your coughs and sneezes
clean your surroundings frequently
wear a face covering or a face mask, particularly if you are in crowded and enclosed spaces