UK Covid cases double as Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants cause infections to rise by 98%

Moderna revealed its new ‘bivalent’ booster jab as cases in the UK reached the highest level for all but a few weeks of the pandemic so far


UK Covid cases double as Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants cause infections to rise by 98%

Scientists are urging people who are eligible for a booster to have one to help curb the spread of Covid (Leon Neal/PA Wire)

By Tom BawdenScience & Environment Correspondent

Covid cases have almost doubled this month, according to the latest figures.

Symptomatic daily infections, which stood at 114,030 on June 1, have jumped by 98 per cent, or 111,434, to 225,464, according to the ZOE Covid study app.

The increase means infection rates are now at the highest they have been for all but a few weeks of the pandemic so far, although remain well below the record of 349,011 on March 31.

Tim Spector, the King’s College London professor who runs the ZOE app, expects cases to keep rising for the next two weeks before levelling off as we enter the school summer holidays.

The increase in cases was thought to have been initially driven by the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations, which began on Thursday June 2.

But the rise is predominantly down to the rapid underlying growth of new Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

The new subvariants are more contagious than BA.2, which BA.4 and BA.5 have now overtaken.

They are also thought to be more severe and better at evading immunity built up by vaccines and prior infection.

“There is emerging data that BA.4 and BA.5 is actually more pathogenic [severe] than BA.1 and BA.2, so there’s a higher hospitalisation risk – so it’s an important and worrisome variant,” said Paul Burton, chief medical officer of Moderna, the US vaccine maker.

“Omicron is devastating. It’s infected millions of people a day even in the US and hundreds of thousands in the UK and across Europe. We’re going to be dealing with the ramifications of Omicron for years to come – long Covid, depression, neurological features, diabetes, cardiovasular disease – and stuff that will begin to emerge. Omicron is not mild.”

Yesterday, Moderna revealed its new “bivalent” booster jab, which targets both Omicron and the original Covid strain, providing good protection against BA.5 and BA.5.

The jab boosted “neutralising titers” – specialised antibodies that bind pathogens and prevent them from spreading infection – against BA.4/BA.5 by 5.4-fold, on average (including people who both had and hadn’t been infected before) – and by 6.3-fold among those who hadn’t had Covid.

However, while the booster jab gave good protection against BA.4 and BA.5, it is not as good as that provided against BA.1, according to the research.

“Neutralising titers against BA.4/BA.5 were approximately three-fold lower than previously reported neutralizing titers against BA.1,” the study found.

It is hoped the jab will become available in the UK for over 65s and vulnerable groups in late August or September although that is yet to be finalised.

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