Coronavirus: 'Prepare for another surge in winter' says Nabarro
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Concern over COVID-19 may have faded among some in the political class, but it has only intensified in the scientific one.
Just as the UK and Europe enter a time when Covid cases have traditionally been at their lowest, they are instead starting to observe a rise.
Hospital admissions as a result of COVID-19 are on the rise; France, England, Germany, and Portugal are all reporting data suggestive of a new wave.
This has been driven in large part by Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5; two sub-variants known to hold more in common with the more dangerous Delta variant of COVID-19.
The rise in case numbers comes at a particularly poor time for the UK, a country where testing capacity has been reduced, all restrictions lifted, and immunity provided by vaccines is starting to wane.
Virologist at the University of Warwick, Lawrence Young said: “We’re not out of the woods with this at all. The biggest concern is we’ve let our guard down quite considerably.”
This is an opinion shared by Professor Denis Kinane.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Professor Kinane said: “The ending of universal free testing along with a drawdown in border control measures has meant there has been a sudden drop in virus surveillance capabilities, which opens the UK up to additional risk.”
Furthermore, research has shown BA.4 and BA.5 have a degree of immune escape; this means neither previous infection or a vaccine provides a strong degree of protection against the virus.
Head of surveillance at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said BA.4 and BA.5 did not necessarily lead to severe illness, but they did have a greater ability to infect people again.
Data shows even those who have had three vaccine doses are falling ill.
The impact, particularly of BA.5, is already starting to show in mainland Europe; in Portugal, the sub-variant accounts for around 84 percent of new infections.
While case numbers are rising, there remains a high degree of uncertainty over whether these two variants will result in the return of restrictions.
Some datasets indicate week-on-week growth of the virus sub-variants may be slowing; some experts have said the wave is already in remission.
In the UK, the interim chief executive of the NHS, Saffron Cordery said vaccinations were “still holding back the full force of the infection”.
Cordery added the number of people requiring ventilation had risen only slightly.
The answer as to whether BA.4 and BA.5 will deprive the UK of another summer is an uncertain one.
While the growth of the virus is slowing, it shows COVID-19 is not a winter virus and is not like flu.
Furthermore, it is a reminder nations must be vigilant and think twice before letting their viral guard down.
What remains certain, at least among the scientific community, is the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over.
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