THE latest Covid variant is spreading unchecked in the UK, health officials say.
BA.2.86, nicknamed ‘Pirola’ by scientists online, was found to be behind an outbreak of 28 cases at a care home in Norfolk.
Data suggests Covid cases are rising again in Britain, potentially due to a new variantCredit: Getty
Experts at the UK Health Security Agency say the strain is now spreading nationwide but they do not yet know if it’s worse than Omicron.
The NHS has brought its autumn vaccine rollout forward to start next week due to fears about the variant.
NHS England’s vaccines director, Steve Russell, called Pirola “the most concerning variant since Omicron”.
Scientists are concerned its mutations mean it will be more transmissible and cause a rapid spike in sickness.
New variants that emerge are usually only spotted if they spread faster or are more severe than the previous one.
The 28 new cases mean there have been 34 confirmed Pirola cases in England, with five patients admitted to hospital but no deaths.
But it is difficult to track cases or new variants properly because public testing has been scrapped.
Cases have also been found in Scotland, Denmark, Switzerland, Israel and the US and Canada.
NHS figures show overall hospital admissions for Covid are rising, with nearly 900 people being treated in England last week compared to a low of around 250 in July.
Dr Renu Bindra, incident director at the UKHSA, said: “BA.2.86 has a significant number of mutations compared to other currently circulating Covid variants.
“But the data so far is too limited to draw firm conclusions about the impact this will have on the severity of the virus.
“It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this.
“In the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.”
Vaccine companies say their jabs will still work against the variant, which has a similar structure to Omicron.
Only over-65s and vulnerable people will be eligible for a booster this time around.
The rollout will begin on Monday, September 11, with care home residents and then extend to other high-risk members of the public.