London, March 24: There is a “high chance” that a new Covid variant which is worse than Omicron will emerge in the next two years, England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty has warned.
He said that there was still a “long way to go” because the virus will continue to “throw surprises”. He also insisted the virus – which now poses a similar death threat as flu – will be with us “for the rest of our lives”, Daily Mail reported.
Whitty noted that the strain could cause “worse problems” than Omicron and the challenges from the current strain are “not by any means trivial”, and its emergence could “significantly change our balance of risk”.
Dismissing the idea that Covid has become endemic, he said it is incorrect to assume the virus has reached a “stable state” around the globe, despite easing restrictions by many countries.
“And there’s a high chance that we will all be discussing, and I will be discussing with my colleagues, a new variant at some point in the next two years that actually significantly changes our balance of risk,” he said.
“We could well end up with a new variant that produces worse problems than we’ve got with Omicron and the Omicron problems are by no means trivial,” he added.
UK’s SAGE advisors have warned of a “realistic possibility” that a more lethal variant could emerge that kills one in three people, in line with earlier coronaviruses such as MERS.
This is because Omicron evolved from a different part of the virus’s lineage, and there is no guarantee the next strain will evolve directly from Omicron.
Meanwhile, the UK is seeing a resurgence in Covid cases and deaths, after a brief lull.
Covid deaths rose by a quarter compared to a week ago, however, with 250 recorded, the report said.
Hospital admissions also increased 17 per cent in a week, after 1,879 admissions were logged on March 18.
Experts have blamed the uptick on BA.2, which is now dominant in the country. But the strain is not thought to be any more severe than the original Omicron variant.
Whitty said the BA.2 Omicron variant is a “large part” of the current high rates that are rising “in virtually all parts of England”.
He said the strain, thought to be as contagious as chickenpox, is not translating into surges in deaths or intensive care admissions – but “that doesn’t mean that it is having no impact at all”.