Over three years on from the first UK Covidpandemic, the highly contagious virus still poses risks. The latest data for England from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that Covid case and hospital admission rates have stabilised after recent rises.
However, some data based on swabs of GP patients collected as part of a monitoring scheme, has hinted at a rise in case rates. A&E attendances for Covid-like illnesses have also increased.
The first case of the new variant, BA2.86 was identified in August in the UK. Scientists are monitoring it closely because it shows a large number of genetic mutations, raising concerns it could evade immunity from vaccination and previous infection. But experts say there is not enough data yet to be sure of the risk the variant might pose.
The UKHSA said: “A case of the COVID-19 variant BA.2.86 has been identified in the UK and a number of other countries.”
A risk assessment published by UKHSA confirmed the UK case had no recent travel history, suggesting established international transmission and a degree of community transmission within the country.
It added that the similarity of the genetic sequences in different countries suggests that the variant emerged recently and grew rapidly, though it is too soon to conclude a result given the small number of sequences.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced BA.2.86 “variant under monitoring” due to the large number of mutations it carries.
Should you test and should you isolate?
Though there are no current rules and regulations, experts say there are still measures worth taking.
It’s recommended by the NHS that you stay home if you have Covid-like symptoms, have either a fever or feel unwell. Take a test and avoid contact with other people. Children with mild symptoms, however, can still be sent to school or childcare if they feel well enough.
The NHS says under 18s should try to stay at home and avoid contact with others for three days after testing positive, while adults over 18 should do the same but for five days. Both groups should avoid meeting vulnerable people for the following 10 days.
How to get tests?
The NHS website states: “If you want to get tested but are not eligible for free NHS rapid lateral flow tests, you need to pay for the test yourself.
“You can buy rapid lateral flow tests from some pharmacies and retailers, in person or online.”
Those who have a specific health condition (you can check the NHS website for the list of conditions) and those who work in healthcare or in a hospice are entitled to free lateral flow tests.
Who can get booster vaccines?
People at greatest risk of serious illness from Covid, including care home residents, those over 65 and frontline health and social care workers, are eligible for an autumn vaccine booster.