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New BA.2 Covid strain is ‘close to one of the most contagious diseases we know of’, says professor UK News

Experts fear a newly discovered strain of Covid-19 has the potential to be one of the most infectious diseases the world has seen in its lifetime.

Epidemiologist and biostatistician Professor Adrian Esterman predicts the latest strain is up to six times more transmissible than the original Alpha variant, and we can expect most people to catch it at some point – reports The Mirror.

And although less lethal than previous strains, the BA.2 variety is a mutation of the pre-existing Omicron version of the coronavirus – accounting for the majority of newly reported infections in the UK.

Read more: Covid surges continue as ‘stealth Omicron’ hits areas like Gosforth and Ashington

BA.2’s R number, the rate at which it can spread, is 12, compared to 2.5 for the original virus. Professor Esterman told MailOnline that this level of infectivity makes the new strain ‘pretty close to measles, the most contagious disease we know of’. BA.2 appears to cause less severe disease than previous strains but, like all strains, can be dangerous, he added.

He said: “The problem is that it causes more serious illness in vulnerable people than the flu, and it has the ability to cause real damage to younger people as well. There have been several cases of young, healthy and fit people who have died of Covid.

“I don’t remember this happening with the flu. Covid-19 can attack all parts of the body, from clotting to the heart and brain.

“There have even been cases of young children with multisystem inflammatory disease. It’s true that pandemics become less contagious over time, but that happens over 100 years, not a year.”

The rise in Covid-19 infections is driven by an increase in outbreaks among those aged 30 to 49, while rates are highest in the South West and South East of England, new figures suggest. Public health experts have warned that the virus is circulating at “increasing levels”, with several factors possibly responsible, including the increased transmission abilities of the BA.2 variant and the removal of self-isolation rules.

All age groups and regions have seen an increase in Covid-19 activity over the past week, according to the UK Health Security Agency (HSA).

It comes as the WHO said Covid-19 was not yet settled into a “seasonal or predictable” and dismissed the idea that the virus was “through it in the northern hemisphere until the next winter” as it highlighted the increase in virus cases in the UK. .

Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, added: “The virus is still moving quite easily and in the context of waning immunity and the fact that vaccines are not working perfectly against infection, it is likely that this virus will echo around the world. The virus will pick up pockets of susceptibility and survive in those pockets for months and months until another pocket of susceptibility opens up.

“It hasn’t settled into a purely seasonal or predictable pattern yet. So the idea that we’ve crossed it into the northern hemisphere now and have to wait until next winter – I think when we look at rate increases, for example cases like in the UK, I think we have to be very, very, very vigilant. We have to be very careful. We have to watch that very carefully.