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A top virologist has warned that COVID-19 is showing “no signs of stopping” amid the rise of the Pirola variant.
Also known as BA.2.86, the descendant of Omicron was first detected in the UK in August.
Prior to then it had been spreading through the US, Canada, Portugal, Sweden and other countries.
According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) there have been 34 confirmed cases of the strain in the UK, with five hospitalisations.
However, The Independent reported on September 17 that there had been seven hospitalisations caused by Pirola in the UK.
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Now an expert has warned that Pirola could likely be a sign of things to come, paving the way for potentially worse variants with Covid showing “no signs of stopping”.
Speaking to the Mirror, Professor Stephen Griffin – from the University of Leeds, revealed he was “staggered” by the current approach to Covid, with the attitude it is just a seasonal virus despite having already had a number of waves so far in 2023.
He said: “The perception we’re done with it and the narrative of having to live with it is another way of saying we’re willing to deal with the damage it does.”
According to Prof Griffin this includes thousands of deaths caused by Covid in the UK this year, the impact of long Covid and the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people having to adapt to life with the virus.
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“It’s the opposite of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, it is there, it’s killing people, and we’re not talking about it,” Prof Griffin warned.
The professor also said that people were focused on their individual safety, rather than the wider public response.
“None of these elements keeping Covid where it is are stable, and immunity will wane and things can get worse,” he added.
While cases of BA.2.86 have been detected in countries around the world its exact prevalence is unknown due to limitations on testing for specific variants.
Prof Griffin said: “It’s obviously successful because it’s spread round the world, it’s only just emerged into people we know that … so it’s managed to spread round the world very quickly against the background of hugely successful Omicron XBB variants.
“The idea that it’ll burn out could happen, but I suspect it won’t … if you look back, the delta variant was quite similar at the beginning and it had fits and starts, before it really got going.
“It could reach critical conditions. There are very few sequences at the moment but testing bias is very poor.
“It could be a matter of time [until case numbers take off], it could be it doesn’t become very much itself, but it’s another sign we can’t consign this to being a seasonal flu.
“It’s really hard to tell the future with that, if nothing else it’ll be a forebearer for other variants that could outcompete the XBB’s … we keep saying this, we keep seeing these jumps in evolution for the virus, and it shows no sign of stopping.”
Common symptoms of the Pirola strain are thought to include:
- Sore throats
- Runny or blocked noses
- Coughs (with or without phlegm)
If you experience symptoms and/or test positive the NHS recommends staying home and avoiding contact with others for five days if possible.
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