The Omicron sub-variant, officially called BA.2, is now dominant across England, accounting for 57 per cent of cases nationally in the last week of February, according to research by the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
This is up from a quarter just two weeks before, and comes amid a recent rise in both cases and hospitalisations.
In Preston, in the week ending February 26, 50 per cent of cases were BA.2, with 29 out of 58 cases placing the city as having the 213th highest amount of the strain out of 314 local authorities.
BA.2 was the dominant strain in nearby Chorley, where 59% of the 29 analaysed samples were BA.2, and South Ribble where 54% of its 28 cases were.
The highest proportion of the new variant in Lancashire lay in Ribble Valley, where it accounted for 67%, whilst in Fylde and Wyre, it accounted for 42% and 38% respectively.
Stealth Omicron got its nickname because it is more difficult to differentiate from Delta than the original Omicron variant, BA.1.
It is also more contagious but early studies suggest it carries no greater risk of hospitalisation.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said case numbers were lower than at the peak of the Omicron wave, but that “the increasing presence of the BA.2 sub-lineage of Omicron and the recent slight increase in infections in those over 55 show that the pandemic is not over and that we can expect to see Covid circulating at high levels.”
Professor Paul Elliott, director of Imperial College London’s React programme, said England is also seeing a rise in hospitalisations and warned that the BA.2 variant needs to be tracked carefully.
He added: “It is more transmissible. We are seeing an uptick in infections, particularly in the older group, and we are seeing an uptick in hospitalisations.
“At the moment, we’re possibly seeing the beginning of an uptick, but we don’t know where it’s going to go.”
The Wellcome Sanger Institute analysed 27,000 positive tests taken in England during the week to February 26 to determine which variant they were.