Five Brits have already died with Arcturus, the new Covid strain wreaking havoc across India.
The variant, thought to be the most infectious yet, is causing carnage in India, with cases having exploded 90-fold since it first took off two months ago.
Some of the worst-hit states have already brought back mandatory face masks to control its rapid spread.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chiefs have detected 135 cases of the Omicron spin-off, which first reached Britain in mid-February.
Only one region, the North East, has yet to see it.
Other Omicron sub-variants include Kraken (XBB.1.5) and Orthrus (CH.1.1). Currently Kraken remains the dominant strain in the UK, as of April 14, causing 44 per cent of cases, while Omicron accounts from 8 per cent and Arcturus, 2.3 per cent, the UKHSA said
India now accounts for 61 per cent of all recorded cases of XBB.1.16, UKHSA officials warned. The dominant variant in the country, between March 20 and April 3, over two thirds (68 per cent) of all cases logged were the Arcturus strain. Separate figures from the Oxford University-run platform Our World in Data show new daily cases hit 9,526 six days ago on April 18, up from 625 recorded one month earlier
While the rapid rise in Covid cases is of some concern, it is still far below the devastating wave the country experienced in 2021 from the Delta variant
Five deaths are included in the cases. It is not clear if the patients died from that particular strain, or with it.
But the case toll — based on genomic surveillance — will be a massive undercount because only a fraction of samples are now tested thoroughly.
Surveillance data shows the strain, scientifically called XBB.1.16, makes up roughly 2.3 per cent of all new cases.
Separate unofficial figures suggest around 65,000 Brits are getting infected each day.
UKHSA officials stated Arcturus, nicknamed by variant trackers online, was among the ‘most competitive’ Covid strains in the UK.
Officials at the government health agency expect that one of the strains will become dominant in the coming weeks, they said.
‘However, XBB.1.16 sample numbers are very low, and results may change as further data becomes available,’ they noted.
Leading experts insist that there’s no proof the strain is any more severe than others circulating.
Nowadays the illness caused by the coronavirus closely resembles that of flu, unlike during the earliest days of the pandemic.
But XBB.1.16 does have three extra mutations on its spike protein, which may help it dodge the body’s natural defences.
But the UKHSA said ‘it is unclear’ whether the variant will spark a fresh wave in the UK, which has much different levels of immunity to India.
India is now logging almost 10,000 Covid cases each day.
This is up from the 160 in late February, when the variant began to gather pace.
Data suggests it makes up two thirds of all cases in the country.
Doctors on the front line in India claim they’ve seen a rise in infected children with conjunctivitis, suggesting Arcturus might be causing different symptoms to other variants.
The strain was first identified in January and has been monitored by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since the end of March.
It has now been seen in 34 countries, including the US, Singapore, Australia and Canada.
Other Omicron sub-variants include Kraken (XBB.1.5) and Orthrus (CH.1.1).
Currently Kraken remains dominant in the UK, causing 44 per cent of all cases, while Omicron accounts for 8 per cent.
Typically Covid symptoms are known to include a high fever, cough, cold and loss of the sense of taste or smell. But Vipin Vashishtha, consultant paediatrician at the Mangla Hospital and Research Centre and former official at the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, revealed earlier this month that symptoms affecting children’s eyes have seen a sudden surge. He said he is now seeing a rise in cases involving ‘itchy’ conjunctivitis or ‘sticky eyes’, a symptom he had not witnessed during earlier Covid waves
A separate Covid monitoring project, run by health-tech firm ZOE, has also found that Covid rates have dipped since the end of March
It predicts some 1.05million people in the UK have symptomatic Covid as of yesterday, down almost 400,000 on the 1.49million reported at the end of March. Current levels are in line with those detected in early February, when cases were declining from the winter peak of around 1.7million, according to ZOE data. Some 65,360 cases were also recorded yesterday
Despite fears that cases could soon rise, rates appear to have dipped over the past fortnight.
Health-tech firm ZOE, which has carried on its daily Covid surveillance project, unlike the Government, predicts some 1.05million people in the UK were ill with Covid as of yesterday.
This is down almost 400,000 on the 1.49million reported at the end of March.
This is less than half of the levels seen during the peak of the winter rush.
Professor Robert Dingwall, who advised the Government on the virus during the pandemic, also told MailOnline today: ‘We have to stop jumping at every new Covid variant that comes along unless there is solid evidence that we have poor immunity to it.’
He added: ‘We need to be treating Covid like any other influenza-like illness. The influenza virus also changes fairly regularly but it is not headline news.
‘Public health agencies track the changes so that vaccines can be tweaked to match. Covid does not now require any different response.’
Officials no longer track the prevalence of the virus in the same way they used to, as part of the Government’s ushering in of pre-pandemic normalities.
Variation tracking capabilities have also been scaled back.
Like similar new Covid variants, virus trackers online decided to call XBB.1.16 ‘Arcturus’ following a pattern of naming new strains after mythological entities.
Arcturus means ‘Guardian of the Bear’ and is related to the constellation called the Great Bear.