What should Britain do about a new Covid outbreak?

Experts answer questions about the latest infection outbreak.

London’s Covid memorial
London’s Covid Wall. Recent data show a rise in virus infections. PA Images/Almy
Sat, 25 Jun 2022 17:09 BST Robin McKie Science Editor
Britain is experiencing its third Covid-19 outbreak this year. According to the ONS Infection Survey, 1.7 million people in the UK were infected in the week ending 18 June, a 23% increase from the previous week. The previous week saw a 43% jump. The numbers raise questions about the nation’s ability to contain the disease in the coming months.

What’s behind the rise?
Most scientists and statisticians blame the latest jump on BA.4 and BA.5. Portugal and South Africa have seen significant increases in cases due to these sub-variants.

“The waves in these countries have peaked, and neither caused a severe disease outbreak. Professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine John Edmunds noted hospitalisation increases. The current rise isn’t good, but it doesn’t appear to be a disaster.

Associate professor at Leeds University’s medical school Stephen Griffin agreed. “Due to the UK vaccine programme, we’re better off now than in 2020 and 2021,” he said. However, he warned about post-infection complications (long Covid). Living with Covid strategy lacks long-term wellbeing provisions.

What are the plans for autumn, when colder weather drives people indoors?
Over-65s, frontline health and social workers, and vulnerable younger people will be vaccinated in the fall. Last week, health and social care secretary Sajid Javid hinted that this could be extended to all over-50s. The move would boost protection against Covid-19 as population immunity wanes.

Many scientists insist that the vaccine should protect against both the Wuhan strain of Covid-19 and its recent variant, Omicron. Moderna has created one.

James Naismith of Oxford’s Rosalind Franklin Institute said, “Omicron looks fit.” We’re seeing different strains, not a wholesale switch like from Delta to Omicron. I don’t think we’ll see a new Omega strain, so it makes sense to target Omicron.”

How and when will humanity accept Covid-19?
Covid-19’s Sars-cov-2 virus is not the first human coronavirus. Prof. Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University says Covid-19 may one day reach a similar, relatively safe status in the population, but not soon.

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