Infections on the Rise
Recent estimates from the ZOE Health Study, conducted by King’s College London, reveal a concerning trend in the UK’s COVID-19 landscape. It is now estimated that over 1 million individuals in the country currently exhibit symptomatic COVID-19. This number marks a significant increase, with cases on the upswing since a low point in July. Approximately 1,169,195 people are believed to be infected, the highest count since April 17, 2023, when around 1,178,340 individuals were affected. As of September 2, daily reports indicate a staggering 93,432 new cases across the UK. The city of Edinburgh bears the highest infection rate, where roughly one in every ten residents carries the virus.
Challenges in Data Collection
Notably, there are no longer official estimates of COVID-19 rates within the UK population, complicating efforts to obtain a comprehensive and reliable view of the virus’s spread. Testing for COVID-19 has been significantly scaled back, including within the NHS, resulting in limited data availability for analysis.
An indicator of the virus’s impact, hospital admissions have reached a three-month high in England, with 3.4 admissions per 100,000 people in the week ending August 27. While it remains too early to definitively attribute this surge to the new variant, factors such as increased social interaction may also play a role. However, it’s worth noting that current hospitalization figures remain well below those observed during the spring and last year’s Christmas season.
Enhanced Surveillance Ahead
To better understand and manage the evolving situation, plans are underway to reintroduce COVID-19 surveillance in preparation for the winter months, as announced by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The specifics of this surveillance program are yet to be disclosed, but there will be no significant expansion of routine testing.
Vaccine Rollout and Boosters
The vaccination rollout has been accelerated in response to concerns surrounding a new variant. Beginning September 11, high-risk groups will commence receiving seasonal booster shots. Eligible recipients include individuals aged over 65, frontline healthcare workers, those with immunosuppression, and individuals within clinical risk groups.
Latest Variants in Circulation
One variant causing concern is BA.2.86, often referred to as Pirola. First identified in the UK in mid-August, UKHSA warns of its potential for “significant community transmission” due to its high number of mutations, totaling 33. The implications of these mutations on the variant’s infectiousness and disease-causing potential remain unclear.
Another variant, EG.5, also known as EG.5.1 or Eris, has been designated a ‘variant of interest’ by the World Health Organization (WHO). While it doesn’t appear to increase disease severity compared to earlier variants, it exhibits growth advantages and immune escape properties, enabling it to bypass natural or vaccine-based immunity.
BA.6, informally named Pi, has surfaced in Denmark and Israel, boasting numerous mutations. However, this variant, like others that followed Omicron, has yet to receive an official Greek letter designation.
Guidance for COVID-19
Despite the removal of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, the government advises individuals with COVID-19 to stay at home whenever possible. Although free tests are no longer widely available, they can still be purchased at pharmacies.