In the UK, the risk of coronavirus has been reduced as two rare types of Omicron have been reclassified as options of concern.
The level moved from four to three following the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officers of the four countries and the NHS England Medical Director.
Their statement added: “While it is reasonable to expect an increase in the number of cases due to BA.4, BA.5 or BA2.12.1, it is unlikely that this will lead to significant direct COVID pressure in the near future.”
The last time the alarm was raised was on December 12, when Omicron was spreading rapidly.
It is now estimated that the number of coronavirus infections in the UK is at its lowest level in five months – and a quarter of what it was in March.
They fell again – from about 1.5 million last week to 1.3 million, according to the latest figures Survey of the Office for National Statistics (ONS)..
Approximately every 55 people had the virus in private households in England the week before May 13, according to ONS.
Last week it was one of 45.
Infections in Wales have dropped from about one in 35 to one in 40; Scotland from one of 35 to one of 45; and in Northern Ireland it fell from one to 55 to one in 60.
New types of Omicron may have “immune escape”
Despite a significant and consistent decline, two new Omicron sub-lines – BA.4 and BA.5 – have been reclassified by the UK Health Agency (UKHSA) as a concern.
He said they are likely to have an advantage in growth over the dominant BA.2 type.
Initial findings also suggest that they may also have some degree of “immune escape,” meaning that the body can no longer recognize or fight the virus.
However, so far there are no signs that they are associated with new symptoms or more severe disease, according to the GAVI vaccine alliance.
As of 20 May, only 115 probable or confirmed BA.4 cases had been identified in the UK.
There are 67 in England, 41 in Scotland, six in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.
About 80 BA.5 cases have been identified, including 48 in England, 25 in Scotland, six in Northern Ireland and one in Wales.
Dr Mira Chand of UKHSA said: “The reclassification of these options as options of concern reflects new data on the growth of BA.4 and BA.5 internationally and in the UK.
“Although the impact of these options is uncertain, the option classification system aims to identify potential risks as early as possible.
“UKHSA is conducting further in-depth research. Data and analysis will be published in a timely manner through our regular monitoring report.”
According to GAVI, BA.4 and BA.5 were first detected in South Africa in January and February respectively.
It says the number of countries reporting cases, as well as general cases, is growing.
“This increase may indicate that these options are more transmitted than the existing version of Omicron, or it may be the result of reduced immunity from past infection or vaccination – it is too early to know,” – said in a statement.
The reclassification of BA.4 and BA.5 as options of concern occurs after UK experts recommended the COVID-19 autumn booster to some people.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said that people over 65, residents and staff of nursing homes, health and social workers on the front lines, and people over 16 from vulnerable groups should be offered another vaccine to boost immunity before winter.