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COVID surveillance to restart ahead of winter amid new variant concerns

Plans are under way to restart COVID surveillance ahead of winter.

The announcement comes after the rollout of vaccines was brought forward due to a new variant emerging, one which officials have indicated is the most concerning since the arrival of Omicron.

Jabs for COVID and winter flu also started today in Scotland.

BA.2.86, which was detected in the UK, last month, has a “high number of mutations” and may already be causing “significant community transmission” among Britons.

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The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said surveillance would resume to deal with a time of year when the NHS always faces increased demand due to seasonal illnesses.

Schools returning from holidays also drive respiratory diseases, though this could be neutered somewhat by the concrete crisis which has seen some forced to stay shut.

Professor Steven Riley, UKHSA’s director general of data, analytics, and surveillance, said: “Plans for the restart of COVID-19 surveillance for the winter season, when health pressures usually rise, is in progress and UKHSA will make a further announcement regarding surveillance plans for this winter shortly.

“Protecting the public from COVID-19 remains one of our top priorities.

“We continue to monitor the threat posed by COVID-19 through our range of surveillance systems and genomics capabilities, which report on infection rates, hospitalisations and the risks posed by new variants.”

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COVID data suggests surge in cases

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Booster jab rollout starts next week

But there will be no ramping up of routine testing, which has long been absent across the UK, while there is no suggestion people will be asked to take precautions like wearing masks.

Instead, UKHSA and NHS officials are urging people to take up the offer of a booster jab when it comes.

The rollout will start among care home residents and those who are immunocompromised on 11 September, and then pregnant women, carers, social care staff, and people aged 65 and over.

It was originally not due to start until October.

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‘A rising risk globally’ of future pandemics

Hospital cases well below previous highs

Latest figures show the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in England has reached a three-month high, with 3.4 admissions per 100,000 people in the week to 27 August.

The highest admission rates concern people aged 85 and older, at 34.2 per 100,000.

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It is too early to determine if the rise is linked to the new variant, with other factors – like increased socialising – also possible contributors.

The overall numbers also remain well below those seen in the spring (10.5 per 100,000) and last Christmas (11.8).

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