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concern New XE Covid variant up to '20pc more transmissible' and spreading in Ireland

The variant is thought to be mild in healthy people but could prove damaging to older vulnerable people

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A mural in Dublin of a frontline worker. Picture by Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

A mural in Dublin of a frontline worker. Picture by Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

A mural in Dublin of a frontline worker. Picture by Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

A leading immunologist has said a new, more transmissible Covid-19 strain which has been detected in the North is like spreading across the island of Ireland.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said XE could be 10pc more transmissible than BA.2 but more investigation is needed. It if proves correct it could be the most infectious form of the virus yet.

Trinity professor Kingston Mills said XE is what’s called a “recombinant virus between BA.1 and BA.2".

“What can happen with viruses, and this is quite common with viruses like influenza, but it can also happens with Sars, when a person gets infected with two different viruses those viruses can recombine to give a type of hybrid virus which is the mixture of the genome of one and the other. So, what you have with Omicron XE is a bit of the BA.1 virus and a bit of the BA.2 to make up XE,” he said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Professor Mills said there’s a “suggestion” from research in the UK, where over 1,000 cases of XE have been detected, that it could be up to 20pc more transmissible than BA.2.

“While this variant is reasonably mild in healthy people there’s two big worries, one for the for the vulnerable the older people get infected it can be a severe disease - especially if they haven't been vaccinated - and the second worry is that other variants arising such as this XE,” he said.

Professor Mills said the rise of new variant is particularly concerning for countries like India, which he said is “out of control again” with six million cases detected so far this month.

“There’s a concern in India that there are a lot of new variants emerging. Because when you have so much circulating, in a semi vaccinated population - India has not been as good at vaccinating as some other countries they’ve been using vaccines that don't have as high efficacy - so India is sort of a good location for the emergence of new variants,” he said.

“I think we have to watch that carefully and not get complacent about the fact that this thing is completely over. I’m not trying to be scaremongering but I'm just saying that we need to be prepared if we do see a variant that completely evade immunity with the vaccines.”

He added: “The current vaccines prevent severe disease with Omicron BA.2 of this probably with his XE as well.

“If we got another variant that completely evaded it, then we’d be back to square one.”

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