Prepare for a fresh wave of Covid, health chiefs say

Prepare for a fresh wave of Covid! Health chiefs issue warning amid uptick in cases

  • Warning comes as cases and hospitalisations reached highest level in months
  • READ MORE: Accelerating Covid jabs sparked unnecessary panic, experts say 

Brits should brace for another Covid resurgence this winter, health chiefs have said amid an uptick in cases.

Infections appeared to plateau earlier this month, despite warnings of a fresh wave sparked by the emergence of a new variant nicknamed Pirola. 

But surveillance programmes tasked with monitoring the UK’s outbreak suggest the trend is on the rise again. 

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) bosses expect ‘further increases’ as the season progresses. 

Dr Mary Ramsay, UKHSA’s director of public health programmes, added: ‘This week’s surveillance indicates a slight increase in Covid infection rates.

Covid cases have soared since July, and reaching heights of over 2,000 in October. Blue bars indicate complete data while grey ones are currently incomplete. The blue line indicates the average cases recorded over seven days

CASES: Cases are far below the heights recorded last year but with free testing having been massively scaled back, the number of cases being recorded is likely to be hugely underestimated

‘As we enter the colder months and people begin to mix more indoors, we expect to see further increases in Covid.’

She claimed this would strike ‘alongside the usual increases we see in other winter respiratory viruses like flu’. 

Dr Ramsay added: ‘We are monitoring rates closely and reminding people that when you have respiratory symptoms you should avoid mixing with others, especially those more vulnerable.’

Covid hospitalisations in England are already at a five-month high on the back of the Pirola strain, scientifically called BA.2.86, which spooked ministers into dishing out autumn booster jabs a month early.

However, virus admissions are still far below levels seen during the darkest days of the pandemic.

READ MORE: Decision to bring Covid jabs forward a month amid Pirola fears sparked unnecessary panic over cold-like virus, experts say

Officials launched the programmes, which will see 30million offered a flu jab and 25million invited for a Covid vaccine, in September — a month earlier than planned, citing fears the Pirola variant would overwhelm the NHS

Some 3,366 patients with Covid were admitted to hospitals in England in the week ending October 6 — the highest figure since mid-April.

However, the figure is still far below the 19,405 weekly hospitalisations recorded in England in January 2021, before the life-saving effects of vaccines had kicked in. 

And many Covid hospitalisations are incidental — when a person tests positive for the virus without primarily requiring medical treatment for it.

Vaccine rollouts and repeated waves over the past three years have given Britain a wall of immunity, blunting the virus’s threat and effectively banishing lockdowns to history.

Although nowhere near the same threat it was two years ago, outbreaks can cause chaos in workplaces, hospitals and classrooms.

Gatwick Airport last month had to scrap dozens of flights due to staff illness while a secondary school reverted to virtual lessons after teachers fell sick.

An average of 2,257 Covid cases are being recorded each day in England, according to the latest data.

However, as free testing has been massively scaled back as part of No10’s ‘living with Covid’ strategy, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Covid’s resurgence over recent weeks has seen hospitals ask both patients and visitors to wear face masks again.

Elderly and immunocompromised Brits are still most at risk. Both form a major part of this year’s Covid booster drive.

Anyone over the age of 65, and those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness, are being called forward to get a top-up jab.

HOSPITALISATIONS: This Government graph shows the number of Brits hospitalised with Covid in England across the entire pandemic. Admissions, while on the rise, are still much lower than the peaks recorded in 2021

DEATHS: This graph shows the number of Covid deaths recorded since the start of the pandemic – while numbers have risen slightly compared to earlier in the year they are nowhere near the peaks previously recorded

In a bid to ‘go back to normal’, invites won’t be dished out to millions aged 50-64 who were eligible during the pandemic

While virologists have warned it is too early to reliably pinpoint BA.2.86-specific symptoms, its ancestor BA.2 had some tell-tale signs. Experts aren’t yet certain, however if it behaves like similar Omicron subvariants, the signs to watch out for include a runny nose, sore throat and fatigue

The UKHSA said 3.9million over-65s in England (35.3 per cent) have been jabbed so far as part of the campaign.

The jab is being offered with the seasonal flu vaccine to maximise vulnerable Brits’ protection from both pathogens during the winter season. 

Dr Ramsay urged eligible Brits to take up the jabs if offered.       

‘We strongly urge parents and all those eligible, for either or both Covid and flu vaccines, to book today with the NHS or via their GP surgery as soon as possible,’ she said.

Pirola, like other recently emerged Covid variants, is a spin-off of the Omicron strain.

However, its host of mutations, over 30 in total, sparked alarm with some experts fearing it would be so different that it could effectively dodge the protection offered by Covid vaccines and previous infection, sparking a surge in cases. 

Concerns led health officials to accelerate England’s Autumn Covid jab campaign a month earlier than originally planned. 

However, further analysis of the variant has suggested that it is no more likely to trigger serious illness than other Omicron spin-off strains.

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