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A new Covid variant appears to test positive for longer in patients than previous strains, an expert has said.
According to professor Denis Kinane, founding scientist of Cignpost Diagnostics, a major UK Covid testing provider, data for the Omicron XE variant shows a positive test for 10 or more days, as opposed to the usual six seen in other strains.
Due to the emergence of the new strain, he said some will be “extremely vulnerable” due to the end of free testing.
Dr Kinane told the Mirror: “One of the key differences with our current variants is that in some individuals they continue to be PCR positive at high levels, previously associated with being infectious, for much longer.
"Our current data is showing that many people are testing positive for 10 days or more rather than the 6 or 7 days we saw by frequent testing at the beginning of the Omicron wave, which means the virus has more opportunity to spread more widely and this may be BA-2 and XE’s transmissibility advantage.
"Since testing levels have decreased due to the Government’s lifting of regulations for travel etc. we are testing much less now and not sequencing the virus to any great extent.
“Thus we cannot be definitive on which variants are the ones that seem to be persisting.
"This is naturally leading us to question whether current regulations are able to combat the spread of a variant which appears to be transmissible for longer periods of time, namely the scrapping of self-isolation rules and the recent ending of free testing in England."
He added: “The decision to end free tests will leave many vulnerable groups extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 including the immunocompromised, as people in their social circle will not be tested and may be asymptomatic carriers."
The XE variant combines traits of the BA.1 and BA.2 variants and was first detected in the UK on January 19.
According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), there were 1,371 cases of the variant on April 29, an increase of 77 on April 20.