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Covid cases double in a month as scientists warn about spread of new variants

Hospital admissions are also said to have increased after the discovery of Erin and Pirola strains

Matt Drake
Thursday 24 August 2023 18:23 BST
Some scientists have called for the return of facemasks
Some scientists have called for the return of facemasks (PA Archive)

Covid cases in England have almost doubled in a month after the rise of two new variants.

According to the most recent government statistics available, 875 cases were logged in England on August 11, compared to just 449 a month earlier. Hospital admissions have also risen by a fifth in a week.

UKHSA statistics show Covid cases in England rose from a seven-day rolling average of 373 on July 8 to 879 as of August 8. Also, 589 out of 6,500 neighbourhoods in England had detected at least three Covid cases in the week to August 12.

The uptick comes after reports of a new variant called Eris which makes up one in four new cases. Also, another strain nicknamed Pirola is quickly spreading globally, Mail Online reported.

Eris, officially known as EG5, accounted for 17.3 per cent of American cases as of 5 August, up from 7.5 per cent in the first week of July and surpassing a number of Omicron descendants like XBB.1.16 (15.6 per cent of cases), XBB.2.23 (11.2 per cent) and XBB.1.5 (10.3 per cent).

The US is also seeing an increase in hospital admissions with coronavirus, its first significant uptick since December 2022.

Pirola, known as the BA.2.86 strain, has also been reported in Israel, Denmark and the US.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said they are unsettled by the variant and suggested the rapid spread could suggest an international transmission.

The total number of cases logged is now more than ten across seven countries and four continents since the strain was discovered earlier this month.

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist from the University of Reading, told MailOnline: "We still don't know how BA.2.86 is going to behave in a widely vaccinated population, but it appears to be travelling around the world on aeroplanes and has probably been doing so for a while.

"The almost complete lack of surveillance means that we don't have a full understanding of its spread but it seems inconceivable that it would be limited to the case in London."

With the rise of new Covid strains and hospital admissions, scientists have called for the return of facemasks.

Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that advises on the virus, said: "Without ramping up surveillance, and in the face of waning immunity, we are travelling into winter more vulnerable and with blinkers on."

Prof Pagel predicted the new wave could cause extreme pressure on the health service, with a repeat of last winter’s “unprecedented” NHS crisis of Covid, flu and respiratory virus that came all around the same time.

Dr Trisha Greenhalgh, a University of Oxford healthcare expert and also iSage member, wrote on social media: “My various science WhatsApp groups are buzzing… I understand little of the detail but it looks like it’s once again time to MASK UP.”

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