Huge vaccine centre launched to bolster UK’s pandemic preparedness
A new Covid variant has emerged in the UK as cases have once again started to rise.
The Eris variant, technically called EG.5.1, now makes up one in seven new COVID cases, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Descended from the Omicron variant, the UKHSA has been monitoring Eris’ prevalence due to increasing cases internationally.
It was classified as a variant in the UK on 31 July. According to World Health Organisation data, the EG.5 strain was first documented in mid-February this year.
The surge in Covid cases comes as estimated numbers jumped by almost 200,000 last month, from 606,656 predicted cases on 4 July to 785,980 on 27 July, according to The Zoe Health Study.
Eris is now the second most prevalent variant in the UK, after Arcturus which makes up almost half of all infection cases at 39.4 per cent, according to UKHSA.
Officials say they are “closely” monitoring the situation as COVID case rates continue to rise.
UK’s newly launched vaccine lab aimed at tackling next pandemic
A state-of-the-art vaccine research facility, where scientists will work to ensure future pandemics are stopped in their tracks and do not cause the same disruption to everyday life as Covid-19, has been unveiled by the government.
The Vaccine Development and Evaluation Centre (VDEC) is based at the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) science and defence technology campus Porton Down, near Salisbury in Wiltshire.
Live viruses will be kept on-site in specialist containment facilities, with researchers looking at pathogens that do not yet have a vaccine, or ones where immunisation could be improved, such as flu, mpox or hantavirus.
Tara Cobham7 August 2023 08:30
UK could be ‘flying blind’ on Covid this year, expert says
Christina Pagel, a professor of operational research at University College London, has explained her view that the UK may be facing new wave of Covid.
“What worries me most is if we get a repeat of the last winter NHS crisis this winter again, with Covid, flu and RSV all hitting around the same time,” she tells the Guardian, “we are definitely flying near blind.”
Pagel explains that this could be triggered by falling immunity rates, new variants like Eris, and poor weather keeping people inside. “We might see the wave continue to grow, and grow faster, in September,” she said.
Albert Toth7 August 2023 07:50
Eris: What are the symptoms of the new variant?
As a strain of Omicron, the symptoms for Eris are fairly similar. Everything we know:
Maryam Zakir-Hussain7 August 2023 07:47
What has caused the recent rise in Covid-19 cases?
With Covid-19 cases steadily climbing for the past couple of weeks, experts are looking for answers. Some have turned to an unexpected possibility:
Albert Toth6 August 2023 17:00
Can I get vaccinated against Eris?
The UKHSA has indicated that further booster vaccines will be rolled out in Autumn of this year, to bolster vulnerable people in the UK’s immunity against all strains of Covid:
“The NHS will be in contact in autumn 2023 when the seasonal vaccine is available for those who are eligible due to health conditions or age, and we urge everyone who is offered to take up the vaccine when offered.”
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of COVID-19 vaccination on the JCVI, said:
“The COVID-19 vaccination programme continues to reduce severe disease across the population, while helping to protect the NHS.”
Albert Toth6 August 2023 15:30
Are Covid-19 related deaths increasing?
Government statistics show that, in England, deaths with COVID-19 on the death certificate have been steadily decreasing since the end of March – and continue to do so. Although it is possible that this figure could see a delayed increase following the recent rises in Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions.
However, the continued Covid vaccine rollout means that these figures are much less closely related than they were at the height of the pandemic. As Covid-19 immunity rises, less cases and hospital admissions are resulting in deaths.
Whether the Covid immunity granted by vaccines wanes over time is another matter. Past studies of Omicron indicate that it likely does, especially in older people – but a further vaccine rollout can be expected in Autumn of this year, according to the UKHSA
Albert Toth6 August 2023 14:45
The Eris variant: should we be worried?
Current research suggests that Eris is not shaping up to be the mass infector its parent variant Omicron was back in late 2021 to early 2022.
Speaking to The Independent, Professor Azeem Majeed of Imperial College London points out that EG.5.1 is a version of the Omicron variant that appeared in the UK at the end of 2021, and WHO has designated EG.5 as a variant under monitoring (VUM) but not as a variant of concern (VOC), as Omicron was.
However, the UKHSA recommends continued diligence – perhaps more so than we’ve been used to these past few months. Their most recent guidance recommends:
“Regular and thorough hand washing helps protect you from COVID-19 and other bugs and viruses. If you have symptoms of a respiratory illness, we recommend staying away from others where possible.”
Albert Toth6 August 2023 14:04
Where are Covid cases highest right now?
The most recent government data shows that the South West of England is currently experiencing a spike in known cases of Covid-19. On average Cornwall, Somerset, and Devon are up 37.48 per cent this past week, with the latter being the highest by far with a 104 per cent increase.
Elsewhere in the South, Surrey has similarly seen a 103 per cent increase, with 122 cases.
The Midlands is also noticing a slight uptick, as cases in Worcestershire are up by 45.2 per cent, in Staffordshire by 41.7 per cent, and in Derbyshire by 121.4 per cent – the highest of anywhere in the country this week.
Albert Toth6 August 2023 13:34
The latest rise in numbers
Official government data shows that Covid infections and related hospital admissions in England have been steadily rising since around the start of July. This is the first rise the country has seen since a sharp increase in March, followed by a relatively sharp decrease by April.
In the last seven days, 4,076 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England, up 27.8 per cent from the previous week. Meanwhile, 1,438 Covid-19 patients were admitted to hospital, a worrying 40.7 per cent increase from the previous week.
Albert Toth6 August 2023 13:00
Barbenheimer to blame?
It has been suggested that Barbenheimer – the term coined for the double bill of watching box-office smashes Barbie and Oppenheimer back-to-back – may have contributed to an increase in Covid cases this Summer. This is due to increased indoor mixing in closed spaces. Experts give their view:
Albert Toth6 August 2023 12:30