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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Miriam Burrell

UK ‘blind’ to devastating wave of new Covid variants, experts warn

The UK is “blind” to new Covid variants which could cause a devastating new wave, health experts have warned.

Covid infections in the UK have risen by 14 per cent in a week, according to the Office for National Statistics, in a sign that the autumn wave of infections is underway.

More than 1.1 million people in the UK tested positive for the virus in the week ending September 20, up from 927,000 in the previous week.

Meanwhile Londoners lag behind the rest of England in receiving their Covid booster jabs.

Co-founder of the Covid ZOE app, professor Tim Spector, told The Independent the next wave of coronavirus is already upon us.

He also warned that Government guidelines about symptoms are “wrong”.

“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,” he said.

Professor Spector said that means infected people would believe they had a cold and would not get tested. He also said the new wave is affecting older people slightly earlier than the last wave.

He said the variants of Omicron are becoming immune-evasive and could cause England “real problems” come winter.

His comments were backed up by virologist professor Lawrence Young, who said the UK is “blind” to the behaviour of new potential variants of concern because testing is so low.

The University of Warwick professor said that two Omicron variants were already proving to show signs of escaping the immune system.

“We’ve really taken our eye off the ball with Covid tests,” he said.

“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.”

Both professors join growing calls for the government to ramp up Covid messaging ahead of winter, and Mr Young suggested mask wearing should return in crowded indoor spaces.

Public health experts are also pushing for a higher uptake of the booster jab, which is currently being rolled out to people aged 50 or older.

London continues to lag behind other regions in England on Covid vaccination. As of September 21, over half of eligible Londoners (53 per cent) had still not received their third dose given as part of a campaign in December last year to combat the rise of Omicron.

The capital also has the lowest uptake of the autumn booster among all regions in England so far, with 7.1 per cent of over-50s jabbed since the beginning of the campaign two weeks ago. This is compared to 8 per cent in the East of England and 8.2 per cent in the East Midlands.

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