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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Helena Vesty

The new Covid symptoms as immune-evasive strains kickstart new virus wave in UK

A ‘devastating’ Covid wave is about to break in the UK, say experts, who have slammed the government’s guidelines as ‘wrong’ and revealed the main symptom for the latest version of the virus. The autumn wave will be made worse by a lack of testing and limited surveillance of the new immune-evasive variants, according to the health leaders.

A total of 1.1 million people in private households tested positive for coronavirus in the latest survey, which covers the seven days to September 17 in England and the week to September 20 in the other three nations, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). That’s a 14 per cent rise in the UK and marks the first time the UK figures have been more than one million since August.

The numbers are still significantly below the 3.8 million weekly infections seen in early July - the peak of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants. But Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of the Covid ZOE app, says the UK was already at the start of the next wave of coronavirus.

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The expert told The Independent : “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.”

Covid is currently exhibiting cold-like symptoms, according to experts (Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

Prof Spector told the newspaper that early data showed new subvariants of Omicron were becoming immune-evasive and could cause the UK ‘real problems’ as winter approaches with the NHS ‘already on its knees’.

The last few weeks played witness to hours of delays in Greater Manchester A&Es - scenes reflected across the country. Now, hospitals will be threatened by two more Omicron subvariants: BA.2.75.2 derived from BA.2, and BQ1.1 derived from BA.5, according to University of Warwick virologist, Professor Lawrence Young.

The expert says that the two subvariants have been causing concern, amid signs that they are able to escape the immune system, reports The Independent . “What’s interesting about these variants is that although they’re slightly different in how they’ve come about they’ve come up with the same changes to get around the body’s immune system,” Prof Young said.

“What we’re finding is the virus is evolving around the immunity that’s been built up through vaccines and countless infections people have had.”

He added: “The biggest concern we’re seeing is that in early data these variants are starting to cause a slight increase in infections. In a way, this was to be expected but it does demonstrate that we’re not out of the woods yet at all with this virus, sadly.”

Covid-19 booster jabs can help to prevent infection (Peter Byrne/PA Wire)

Prof Young also warned that the folding of Covid testing laboratories since the start of the government’s Living with Covid plan means the UK is “blind” to new potential variants of concern. Major NHS “Lighthouse” labs closed earlier this year in line with the government’s policy on the infection, meaning the UK has ‘taken it’s eye off the ball’, says the scientist.

“We’ve really taken our eye off the ball with Covid tests,” he said. “We can only detect variants or know what’s coming by doing sequencing from PCR testing, and that’s not going on anywhere near the extent it was a year ago.

“People are going to get various infections over the winter but won’t know what they are because free tests aren’t available – it’s going to be a problem. Another angle is the economic pressure. If people do feel poorly they’re not likely to take time off work. You have a perfect storm here, really, of inadequate surveillance, people not coming forward for vaccination and the economic situation.”

Public health leaders in Manchester, including the city centre’s Director of Public Health David Regan, have for months been calling for a return to some of the measures from earlier in the pandemic, including the return of wider access to free testing.

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”.

Booster vaccines are currently being given out (Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

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.

“Cases have started to climb and hospitalisations are increasing in the oldest age groups. In the coming weeks, we expect a double threat of low immunity and widely circulating flu and Covid-19, creating an unpredictable winter and additional pressure on health services,” she told The Independent .

The number of people in hospital with coronavirus throughout 2022 has remained far below levels seen in 2020 and early 2021, before the rollout of vaccines.

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