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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Louisa Streeting

New Covid wave already in UK as nation is ‘blind’ to new variants, warns expert

A Covid expert has warned that a new Covid wave has already hit the country and that reduced testing means the UK is "blind" to new variants. This drop in testing, paired with inadequate surveillance of new immune-evasive subvariants, could lead to a "devastating" spike in cases in the colder months.

According to the latest data, the percentage of people testing positive for coronavirus rose in England for the week ending September 17, meaning around one in 65 people had the virus. Around 1.1 million people in private households tested positive for Covid in the latest UK survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which covers the seven days to September 17 in England and the week to September 30 in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This is the first time the UK total has been above one million since late August. However, it is still much less than the 3.8 million weekly infections in early July, marked as the peak of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 wave. reports MirrorOnline.

Read more: Covid experts advise 'to get your booster' as hospitalisations rise in Bristol

Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of the Covid ZOE app, has said the UK is already at the start of the next wave of coronavirus.

Speaking to the Independent, he said: “It looks like we’re in the start of the next wave and this time it’s affected older people slightly earlier than the last wave. Many people are still using the government guidelines about symptoms which are wrong.

"At the moment, Covid starts in two-thirds of people with a sore throat. Fever and loss of smell are really rare now – so many old people may not think they’ve got Covid. They’d say it’s a cold and not be tested.”

Professor Spector's concerns are that early data shows new subvariants of Omicron are becoming immune-evasive and could cause the UK “real problems” as winter approaches. With the NHS “already on its knees”, it could be a long few months ahead.

Professor Lawrence Young, virologist at the University of Warwick, explained that two Omicron subvariants – known as BA.2.75.2 derived from BA.2, and BQ1.1 derived from BA.5 – are causing concern in early data and showing signs of being able to escape the immune system. His research has found that the virus is evolving around the immunity that’s been built up through vaccines and infections people have had, meaning we are "not out of the woods yet".

Professor Young added that the downscaling of Covid testing laboratories since the Government’s Living with Covid plan means the UK is “blind” to the behaviour of new potential variants of concern. Major NHS “Lighthouse” labs closed earlier this year in line with the government’s policy on the infection, leaving Professor Young to say we have "taken our eye off the ball with Covid tests".

Both professors have called for stronger and more proactive messaging from the Government ahead of the colder winter weather, with Professor Young calling for mask-wearing in poorly ventilated and crowded indoor spaces to return.

Sarah Crofts, ONS deputy director for the Covid-19 infection survey, said it was “too early to identify whether this is the start of a new wave”. Dr Mary Ramsay, director of public health programmes at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said it was “clear now that we are seeing an increase” in levels of Covid-19.

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