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UK health chiefs are sweating over a new Covid strain that could soon herald the return of mask-wearing in public spaces.
The super-infectious Covid variant Arcturus is on the rise, most notably in the US, Australia and India, where five Brits have died with the infection.
The new subvariant of Covid has already spread across the UK and is present in all regions of England apart from the North East. It is believed there are more than 100 known cases here.
READ MORE: UK warned Arcturus Covid variant causing carnage in India has grim new symptom
In the past, new variants and subvariants led to increases in transmissibility or severity of the infection.
Arcturus, known as XBB.1.16, is worrying experts and Professor Stephen Griffin, chair of Independent SAGE, said people should go back to regularly testing as well as wearing masks.
He told MailOnline: “This may seem like a throwback to last year, but the reality is the virus continues to do harm and those least able to cope continue to suffer.
“In the absence of population-scale mitigations… the focus remains upon individual risk which is, for many, now much lower.
"If [the] Government won’t act to enable everyone to 'live' with Covid, vulnerable people will continue to require precautions and, ideally, others will act with an appropriate level of altruism."
XBB.1.16 emerged from two previous potent strains of Omicron, BA.1 and BA.2, which posed serious issues for the UK.
Scientists flagged the new strain's "advantage" early on, with UKHSA first monitoring it on March 6.
It acquired three additional spike mutations which were suggested to have increased its transmissibility.
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The identification of these spikes precluded a sharp increase in Arcturus cases globally and particularly in India, which accounted for more than half of the strain’s cases globally.
As things stand, there are 135 Arcturus sequences in the UK, believed to be around 104 cases as some people have been sequenced twice.
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