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Adam May & Sophie Brownson

New dominant Covid symptom as experts warn UK already in new wave

Experts have warned that a "devastating" spike in Covid cases could sweep across the UK as winter approaches.

A drop in testing and insufficient monitoring of new immune-evasive subvariants could lead to a wave of infections, the Mirror reports.

According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 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.

And a new dominant symptom is being reported - with two-thirds of all people now reporting having a sore throat when they first contract Covid.

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The ONS said that approximately 1.1 million people in private households tested positive for Covid in the latest UK survey, 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 that the UK-wide total has been above one million since late August, however, it is way below the 3.8 million weekly infections in early July, marked as the peak of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 wave.

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

“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,” he told the Independent.

“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.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, says two Omicron subvariants – known as BA.2.75.2 derived from BA.2, and BQ1.1 derived from BA.5 – are showing signs of being able to escape the immune system. He's finding that the virus is evolving around the immunity that’s been built up through vaccines and infections people have had.

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 are called for stronger messaging from the Government ahead of the winter, with Professor Young advocating the return of mask-wearing in poorly ventilated and crowded indoor spaces.

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”.

But 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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