What is “Centaur”? A new, fast-spreading Covid variant that has arrived in the UK as cases soar
Virologists have raised concerns about another highly contagious variant of Omicron which has arrived in the UK.
The BA.2.75 variant, dubbed Centaurus, is rapidly gaining traction in India after it was first detected there in May.
The new variant is thought to be spreading at an even faster rate than its related Omicron BA.5 and BA.2 variants and it has now been detected in around 10 other countries, including the UK, US, Australia. Australia, Germany and Canada.
It’s still unclear whether it could cause more severe disease than other Omicron variants, but scientists say it may be able to evade immunity from vaccines and previous infections.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) designated BA.2.75 as a “monitored variant” on July 7, meaning there are indications it may be more transmissible.
Expert concerns are fueled by the large number of mutations BA.2.75 contains compared to its Omicron predecessors.
Some of these mutations are in areas related to the spike protein and could allow the virus to bind to cells more efficiently, said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Another concern is that the genetic changes could make it easier for the virus to bypass antibodies – protective proteins made by the body in response to a vaccine or infection with an earlier variant.
But experts say vaccines and boosters are still the best defense against severe Covid.
It may take several weeks to find out if the latest Omicron mutant can affect the trajectory of the pandemic.
Shishi Luo, infectious disease manager for Helix, a company that provides viral sequencing information to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said BA.2.75 is another reminder that the coronavirus is evolving and is continuously spreading.
“We would like to go back to life before the pandemic, but we still have to be careful,” she said.
“We have to accept that we now live with a higher level of risk than before.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Covid to remain a global emergency, nearly two and a half years after it was first declared.
The UN agency’s emergency committee, made up of independent experts, said in a statement that the increase in cases, the ongoing viral evolution and the pressure on health services in a number of countries meant that the situation was still an emergency.
The number of new coronavirus cases reported worldwide has increased for the fifth consecutive week while the death toll remains relatively stable, the WHO reported on Thursday.
In the UN health agency’s weekly review of the Covid pandemic, the WHO said there were 5.7 million new confirmed infections last week, marking a 6% increase. There were 9,800 deaths, roughly similar to the previous week’s figure.
Earlier this week, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic was still considered a global emergency and he was “concerned” about the recent spike.
“The virus is circulating freely and countries are not managing the disease burden effectively,” Dr Tedros said.
“New waves of virus again demonstrate that Covid is far from over.”
Over the past two weeks, Covid cases reported to the WHO have jumped 30%, largely thanks to Omicron’s extremely infectious parents, BA.4 and BA.5.