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US coronavirus: what is the Deltacron variant and where has it emerged?

A new covid-19 variant - a combination of the Omicron and Delta strains dubbed Deltacron - is being studied after emerging in Cyprus.

People wait in line to receive a Covid-19 test on January 4, 2022, in New York.

The Omicron covid-19 variant is sweeping the globe, leading to record case numbers being recorded in several countries including the USA, the UK, France and Germany, placing national health systems under pressure. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of the dangers of a rise in the number of hospitalisations due to the highly contagious Omicron strain, which is less serious than Delta but spreading at a much faster rate, becoming the dominant strain worldwide in a matter of weeks since it was first detected in South Africa in November.

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Other new variants have also been detected, such as IHU, which was discovered in France at around the same time as Omicron. IHU was classified as a “variant of interest” by the WHO, although it is not thought to be as much of a threat to global health as its predecessors having failed to spread beyond the first 12 cases detected in Marseille. The WHO said IHU was “on its radar,” but did not upgrade it to a “variant of concern,” which is the designation for covid strains that have higher binding capacity – the ability to attach to cells in the human body – and are fast-spreading.

Deltacron emerges in Cyprus

As such, one of the worst possible scenarios for new variants is an amalgamation of those factors to create a new variant possessing the properties of two potentially destabilizing factors. Flurona, a combination of influenza and coronavirus, was recently detected in Israel and now the first cases of a variant dubbed Deltacron – a combination of the more lethal Delta variant and the wildfire-like Omicron strain – have been reported in Cyprus. According to Leondios Kostrikis, a biology professor at the University of Cyprus, “there have co-infections of Omicron and Delta,” and in the case of the variant detected in Cyprus, “it is a combination of both.” Speaking to local television broadcaster Signa TV, Kostrikis confirmed that the variant displays “the genetic signature of Omicron and the genomes of Delta.”

According to date from the Cypriot government, there have been 25 cases of Deltacron detected. However, Kostrikis, who also heads up the University of Cyprus’ Biotechnology and Virology Laboratory, noted that the new variant is “more frequent in hospitalised patients than in vaccinated patients.”

Some experts have expressed their doubts over Deltacron, suggesting the results recorded by Professor Kostrikis may be the result of labortory contamination. However, the researcher backed his own findings on Monday, telling Bloomberg that the cases detected "indicate an evolutionary pressure to an ancestral strain to acquire these mutations and not a result of a single recombination event.”

Omicron cases worldwide passed the 300-million-mark last Friday with the US recording over one million cases in a single day last week. On 6 January, 2.3 million cases were recorded globally in a 24-hour period.