A new variant of the coronavirus (Covid-19) has emerged as a cause of concern for global health experts. The hybrid variant, named Deltacron as it exhibits the characteristics of both Delta and Omicron strains, has been found in samples in the United Kingdom (UK), according to the country's health security agency.
The mutant hybrid variant is being monitored after the discovery of the cases, UKHSA said.
So far, there is no official word from UKHSA about how infectious Deltacron is, or how severe its symptoms can be.
The Delta led the deadly second wave of infection in India and Omicron is responsible for the third wave. But looking at the falling number of cases daily, some experts hope Deltacron won't be as devastating as previous variants.
The Deltacron variant was first discovered by a researcher in Cyprus late last year. Leonidos Kostrikis, who works at the University of Cyprus, claimed that his team identified 25 cases of Deltacron.
The sequences of the 25 Deltacron cases were sent to GISAID, the international database that tracks changes in the virus, on January 7, 2022.
According to Kostrikis, the hybrid strain has Omicron-like genetic signatures within the Delta genome.
However, there was a global pushback against his discovery, with many leading publications dismissing Deltacron as “lab error”. Thomas Peacock, a research associate at Imperial College London's Barclay Laboratory, which focuses on coronavirus research, said on Twitter that Deltacron “looks to be quite clearly contamination”.
But Kostrikis defended his assertion and maintained that the new strain indeed is a hybrid of Delta and Omicron variants, and spreads faster than both of them. In an emails statement to Bloomberg, The Cyprus researcher said that the cases he has identified "indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event".
The original form of the SARS-COV-2 virus, since its emergence in late 2019, has undergone several mutations. The Omicron variant, which is presently the dominant strain in many countries, has more than 30 mutations in it spike protein. According to World Health Organization (WHO), this causes the strain to spread rapidly.
Omicron, which has the scientific name of B.1.1.529, has been designation a variant of concern by the WHO. It was first discovered in South Africa in November last year.