New and highly transmissible Covid variant arrives in Australia – as experts warn to brace for more mutant strains as the country eases restrictions for holidaymakers

  • Hybrid Omicron variant XE officially detected in Australia in returned traveller
  • XE a combination of BA.2 and BA.1, but 10 per cent more transmissible than BA.2
  • Experts warn more XE cases certain to follow and new variants inevitable

The first case of a highly infectious new Covid-19 variant has been detected in Australia.

A traveller who has returned to Australia from overseas has tested positive to the XE recombinant strain according to NSW Health.

NSW Health’s weekly Covid overview confirmed a single positive case in the last week of case data analysed.

The XE strain is a combination of the two Omicron variant subtypes BA.1 and BA.2 and is said to be 10 per cent more transmissible than BA.2. 

The first Australian case of XE Covid, a hybrid of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 strains, has been detected in New South Wales

The new highly transmissible XE strain of Covid-19 was found in a recently returned traveller

The new highly transmissible XE strain of Covid-19 was found in a recently returned traveller

Everything we know about the XE variant

  • The XE recombinant Covid variant is a hybrid of the Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 strains
  • XE is a combination mostly of the spike protein of BA.2, but also has genes from BA.1 
  • Early data shows XE is 10% more transmissible than the BA.2 strain, which remains dominant in Australia
  • Over 1,100 cases have been reported in the UK since January
  • It has also been detected in Canada, Japan, Thailand, Israel and India
  • Current vaccines are expected to be effective against XE in preventing severe illness

‘One recombinant XE (BA.1/BA.2) has been identified in a specimen collected in the week ending 9 April 2022,’ NSW Health said. 

‘This is the first XE sequence to be identified in NSW and was identified in a recently returned traveller.’ 

Experts have warned the relaxation of restrictions and re-opened borders mean more cases are inevitable, with the arrival of other deadlier variants also highly likely. 

XE is understood to have characteristics of both previous strains and was first detected in January this year.

In Britain 1,125 XE cases have been reported and it has also been detected in Japan, India, Canada, Israel and Thailand.

XE is included in the World Health Organisation’s list of ‘currently circulating variants of concern’ under the Omicron label.

Delta is also still a current variant of concern.

So far experts believe existing vaccinations are effective against XE producing severe illness in most people because they work against BA.1 and BA.2.

But vaccines have proved less effective against symptomatic Omicron infection, including mild infections. 

There is also no early evidence it is any more severe than previous versions of Omicron. 

The British government’s UK Health Security Agency is also monitoring a further two notable variants.

They have been dubbed XF and XD, which are both recombinants of Delta and Omicron BA.1.

Experts have warned our open borders and relaxations on Covid restrictions mean we will see more cases of XE and also other potentially deadlier strains

Experts have warned our open borders and relaxations on Covid restrictions mean we will see more cases of XE and also other potentially deadlier strains 

There were 124,554 people diagnosed with COVID-19 in NSW in the most recent dataset, a decrease of 14 per cent on the previous week, the NSW Health Covid weekly report said.

It also confirmed BA.2 ‘continues to be the dominant strain circulating’ in NSW.

BA.2 has been reported in 60 countries. 

There were 75 deaths in NSW in the reporting period, 11 of them people aged under 65. 

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