New Covid strain Arcturus already in the UK as it causes carnage in India

A new Covid strain causing chaos in India is already in the UK, according to health bosses.

"Arcturus" has put hospitals in the country on red alert and some states have brought back mandatory face masks in public areas in a bid to stop soaring infection rates.

Almost 50 cases of the variant, a spin-off of Omicron, have already been detected in the UK in the last month.

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But it isn't believed this strain, technically called XBB.1.16, isn't going to be any more lethal than the main strains currently in circulation – although scientists say it's still too early to tell whether it will cause a significant surge in cases here.

Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: "Although in India it has taken off in the past few weeks so far it has not been increasing rapidly globally.

"I suspect we will see a wave of infections with this variant but I doubt it will cause a big wave probably not even as great as the one we have just had in the UK and so probably not put as great a pressure on health services than recently."

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The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed it is currently monitoring Arcturus, which was first detected in late January.

Health bosses have warned it has some mutations of concern.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's Covid technical lead, said: "It's been in circulation for a few months.

"We haven't seen a change in severity in individuals or in populations, but that's why we have these systems in place.

"It has one additional mutation in the spike protein which in lab studies shows increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity."

Dr Van Kerkhove added there had been no changes in the severity of the disease from the new variant so far.

The UK Health and Security Agency has confirmed this new strain was already in the UK in its final report, with 50 Covid cases confirmed to be caused by this variant.

In India, 40,215 active Covid cases were recorded on April 12, an increase of 3,122 in just one day, and it is thought the new variant is responsible for most of the cases.

The Ministry of Health has been running mock drills to see if the nation's hospitals were prepared for another wave of patients needing treatment.

In the state of Kerela, Health Minister Veena George reintroduced masks for the elderly, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions.

Officials have also urged ministers to ramp up testing in various states in a bid to stop the virus from spreading further.

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