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A new Covid variant is “likely to be spreading” throughout the community in the UK, experts have warned.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is urging eligible people to get vaccinated as soon as they are offered this autumn in a bid to curb the spread of the Pirola variant.

Also known as BA.2.86, the Omicron descendant is responsible for at least 37 new cases in England, as reported by The Independent on September 17.

These have resulted in a total of seven hospitalisations but no deaths, the news outlet said.

According to the UKHSA, 28 of these cases were identified as part of a care home outbreak investigation in the east of the country.

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Surveillance testing discovered a further six in London, one in the northwest, one in the northeast and one in the east of England.

An update on the Pirola variant, reported in the British Medical Journal on September 13, explained: “The new BA.2.86 variant of SARS-CoV-2—nicknamed ‘Pirola’—is now likely to be spreading in the community in the UK, the government has said after an outbreak was reported at a care home.

“The variant, which contains many mutations to the spike gene and was first detected in Denmark in late July has been identified in several countries including Canada, Israel, Portugal, South Africa, and Sweden, as well as the UK and the US.

“The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) had detected 34 cases in England up to 4 September, of which five people were admitted to hospital. Notably, 28 cases were from a single outbreak in a Norfolk care home.”

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In the same article, the UKHSA’s incident director Renu Bindra stressed the importance of getting vaccinated against Covid.

She said: “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.”

Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations and screening, added: “With concerns arising over new Covid variants, it’s vital we adapt the programme and bring it forward for those most at risk, and so I strongly urge everyone eligible to come forward as soon as they can for this important protection in colder months.”

As part of the autumn vaccine programme, eligible people include:

  • Over-65s
  • Anyone in a clinical risk group
  • Anyone living in a household with someone who is in a clinical risk group.

The UKHSA said: “The government has decided to bring forward the COVID-19 autumn vaccination campaign, as a precautionary measure to ensure those people who are most vulnerable and at higher risk of severe disease have the best available protection.

“It can take a few weeks for protection to build after a vaccine, so getting vaccinated ahead of the winter season, when respiratory viruses tend to peak, is important.”

As reported in Express.co.uk, the UKHSA has also recently urged people to stay home if they experience Covid symptoms.

In a blog update from September 19, it said: “If you have symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19, and you have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to go to work or carry out normal activities, you should avoid contact with vulnerable people and stay at home if possible.”

Common symptoms of the Pirola strain are thought to include:

  • Sore throats
  • Runny or blocked noses
  • Coughs (with or without phlegm)
  • Headaches.

The full list of possible Covid symptoms, according to the NHS, is:

  • A high temperature or shivering
  • A new, continuous cough
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • An aching body
  • A headache
  • A sore throat
  • A blocked or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling sick or being sick.

If you experience symptoms and/or test positive for Covid the NHS advises staying home and avoiding contact with others for five days.

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