Omicron sub-variant discussed by infectious disease expert
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The ebbs and flows of the pandemic are set to continue as the UK records a million cases in a week. Data from the Office for National Statistics Swab tests suggest about one in every 16 people is infected. The figures for the week ending 19 March, which is thought to provide the most accurate picture of what is happening on the ground, show under 4.3 million people tested positive, up from 3.3 million the week before.
The current wave in cases is being attributed to three converging forces: the contagious Omicron variant BA.2 is spreading rapidly, people are interacting more as a result of the lifting of social restrictions, and waning vaccine immunity.
The result is a rise of symptomatic cases across the country, which is also heaping pressure on hospitals, with daily admissions now in the thousands.
Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London and the Zoe Covid tracker app – a portal for logging symptoms and infections – recently hit out at the Government’s refusal to expand the symptoms list in light of evolving data.
“The Government’s refusal to recognise the wide array of symptoms and to drop isolation advice and testing is likely driving the incredible number of cases we see today,” he said.
Prof Spector continued: “Many people are no longer isolating when they have symptoms, either because they feel they don’t have to anymore or because they or their employers still don’t recognise symptoms like runny nose or sore throat as Covid.”
The prof vented his frustration at pushing the Government “for over 700 days” to recognise and communicate all Covid symptoms.
“They’ve responded by cutting funds and ignoring our advice. The results are plain to see. With Covid cases the worst they have ever been, and 2,000 people a day in hospital, we need to be telling people to self-isolate with cold-like symptoms and get a test if they can.”
What should you be looking out for?
Findings from the ZOE Covid Study, which pools information logged by users in the Zoe Symptom Tracker app, suggest there are 20 possible symptoms of Covid.
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The most common symptom currently reported is runny nose, accounting for 80 percent of all symptomatic cases, the Zoe data shows.
The list includes a number of rare symptoms, such as ear ringing and feeling unusual muscle pains.
Other possible symptoms include:
- Persistent cough
- Hoarse voice
- Chills or shivers
- Unusual joint pains
- Brain fog
- Eye soreness
- Altered smell
- Unusual muscle pains
- Lower back pain
- Swollen glands
- Skipped meals
- Chest pain.
What’s driving the current wave?
Speaking to The BMJ, Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in California, said: “I would attribute this to the ‘BA.2 triad’.”
He continued: “The variant has 30 percent more transmissibility than BA.1, but spread has been further enhanced by relaxed mitigation measures and waning of vaccine immunity. It’s all intertwined and clearly going to lead to more widespread surges, including in the US.”
Professor Topol warned that this would now further prolong the pandemic and could even provide “yet another path to a new variant in the months ahead”.
Colin Angus, senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield’s school of health, also identifies BA.2 as the key factor.
He told The BMJ: “The recent rise in COVID-19 infections, which is being driven by the emergence of the more transmissible BA.2 variant of omicron, has led to increases in the number of people in hospitals in England with COVID-19 in all age groups and across all regions of the country.”
The current rise underscores the importance of getting vaccinated and Britons can now get their spring booster jab.
More than 600,000 people will be invited for a COVID-19 booster jab this week to offset waning immunity levels.
As part of the biggest and most successful vaccination drive in NHS history, around 5.5 million people aged over 75 or immunosuppressed will be eligible for a spring booster over the coming weeks and months.
More than 118 million vaccinations, including over 32 million boosters, have been delivered since the start of the pandemic.
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