A NEW coronavirus variant with a “high number of mutations” has been detected in the UK.

The BA.2.86 mutation was identified in the UK on Friday in someone with no recent travel history, the UK Health Security Agency said.

This means there could already be “significant community transmission” among Britons, the agency added.

Scotland has seen a rise in cases whilst routine testing in hospital and care homes is being scaled back. The public is still being urged to be vigilant while reports state one GP has warned ministers Scotland is on the brink of another Covid crisis.

However, Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, has said Scotland is in a “fairly stable position” when it comes to Covid.

The new strain was first detected in Denmark on July 24 and was also found in that country on July 31, the same day it was discovered in Israel.

A case in the US was detected earlier this month.

The variant is said to be gnomically distant from its likely ancestor the BA.2 variant, nicknamed “stealth Omicron”.

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That variant gained its nickname from the fact it is more transmissible than the original Omicron strain, which originated in southern Africa and was first detected in the UK in late 2021.

The UKHSA said there is “insufficient data” to assess the new strain’s relative severity or how likely it is to evade the protection offered by vaccines compared to other currently circulating variants.

The agency said it would continue to monitor the spread of the variant closely while checks to determine the risks it may pose continue.

When it comes to Scotland, Bauld said: “What we’ve started to see is an uptick in hospital admissions, so that’s something that’s happening across all of the UK.

“We think there might have been a bit more infection around in the last few weeks – that might be the weather, different behaviours but also we might be seeing some waning of the vaccines, which we expected at this time of year.

“I think a lot of people have just forgotten about Covid. The pandemic is no longer with us but the virus is and it’s going to keep changing, so we are continuing to see new mutations, new variants, coming in – not ones that are causing more severe disease but we need to remember that we don’t have a stable pattern with Covid at the moment. It’s still quite unpredictable.

She added: “There’s a lot of discussion of Disease X and future pandemics. We will have another pandemic, we are preparing for that now but I think the new variant that is causing a lot of attention is EG.5.1, which is something that has emerged that the World Health Organisation has classified as a variant under monitoring."

Francois Balloux, Professor of computational systems biology and director of the UCL Genetics Institute at University College London, said the new BA.2.86 mutation is “the most striking SARS-CoV-2 strain the world has witnessed since the emergence of Omicron” with more than 30 mutations.

However it is unlikely to cause a fresh wave of severe disease and deaths, or prompt fresh restrictions on people’s daily lives, because most people have some immunity to the illness.

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He said: “Even in the worst-case scenario where BA.2.86 caused a major new wave of cases, we are not expecting to witness comparable levels of severe disease and death than we did earlier in the pandemic when the Alpha, Delta or Omicron variants spread.

“Most people on Earth have now been vaccinated and/or infected by the virus.

“Even if people get reinfected by BA.2.86, immune memory will still allow their immune system to kick in and control the infection far more effectively.

“It remains that a large wave of infection by BA.2.86, or any future comparable variant, would be an unwelcome event.”

The strain is likely to have emerged in an immunocompromised person who later spread it, the professor added.

UKHSA deputy director Dr Meera Chand said: “V-23AUG-01 was designated as a variant on August 18 2023 on the basis of international transmission and significant mutation of the viral genome.

“This designation allows us to monitor it through our routine surveillance processes.

“We are aware of one confirmed case in the UK. UKHSA is currently undertaking detailed assessment and will provide further information in due course.”