The UK has reported a new Covid variant EG.5.1, accounting for 1 in 7 new cases, according to the country's Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
This comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated an increase in new Covid cases as well as the number of Covid hospitalisations -- from around 6,300 in June to more than 8,000 for the week ending July 22.
Nicknamed Eris, EG.5.1 was first raised as a signal in monitoring on July 3, and is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant of Covid.
The UKHSA in a statement said that Covid rates have increased this week -- 5.4 per cent of 4,396 respiratory cases from 3.7 per cent of 4,403 respiratory cases reported in the previous week.
Accounting for 14.6 per cent of Covid cases, EG.5.1 is the second most prevalent in the UK, after XBB.1.16 which makes up 39.4 per cent of all cases.
Small rise in hospital admission rates across UK
"We continue to see a rise in Covid-19 cases in this week's report. We have also seen a small rise in hospital admission rates in most age groups, particularly among the elderly," said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), in the statement.
While the admission rates are extremely low, Ramsay said, the variant will be monitoredc "losely" for any spike in numbers.
"Regular and thorough hand washing helps protect you from Covid-19 and other bugs and viruses. If you have symptoms of a respiratory illness, we recommend staying away from others where possible," she added.
WHO adds EG.5.1 to the list of variants under monitoring
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has added EG.5.1 to the list of variants under monitoring.
"WHO continues to advise people at high risk to wear a mask in crowded places, to get boosters when recommended, and to ensure adequate ventilation indoors," said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a recent address.
According to Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Anglia, it was too early to say how EG.5.1 will affect the UK. The UKHSA says the variant has a 20.5 per cent growth advantage on other strains.
"Since Omicron appeared, travel and especially international travel became an important risk factor," Hunter was quoted as saying to Daily Mail.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, said that "increased cinema attendance" and "more indoor mixing" due to bad weather may have contributed to the recent rise in cases. People have been flocking to the cinema this summer to see 'Barbie' and 'Oppenheimer'.
(With inputs from IANS)