A new Covid-19 variant that is spreading in London is not prompting a significant increase in hospital admissions, a top health professor has said.
Azeem Majeed, Professor and Head of the Department of Primary Care and Public Health at Imperial College London, told the Standard that BA.2.86 had caused a “modest increase” in infections in the capital since its emergence last month.
The variant has sparked concern among scientists due to its high number of mutations. Last week, the Department of Health said that booster vaccinations would be brought forward to September 11 to combat the spread of BA.2.86. It had not been due to start until October.
Prof Majeed said of the variant: “It has only caused a modest uptick in cases at a local level. The latest data on admissions and tests is showing a small increase but nothing like the level we saw in 2020 and 2021.
“The increase we saw in August has flattened off in London. The only question is whether the return of schools and more indoor mixing due to cold weather will prompt a rise in infections.”
Prof Majeed said that data on cases was likely to be unreliable as many Britons are no longer testing for Covid-19 when they have symptoms.
But he added that figures on hospital admissions and deaths would still act as an accurate measure of the variant’s severity.
The latest data shows that infections are rising across London, albeit from a low base. Hillingdon has the highest infection rate of any borough, with 16.2 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to August 19. This was followed by Harrow (13.9) and then Westminster (13).
Just 52.1 per cent of people aged 75 and over in the capital had received their Spring booster jab as of August 23, by far the lowest proportion of any region in England.
Prof Majeed said the data underlined the importance of vulnerable Londoners coming forward to get their jab.
“People are probably a bit more complacent now about getting a vaccine than 2-3 years ago, when the virus was causing much more in terms of cases and deaths.
“But the good news is that we have faced many variants in the past couple of years and the vaccines have worked well in severe cases. Most people have got some form of immunity from vaccination or previous infection.”
His comments came after the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that Covid surveillance would restart ahead of the winter season, when pressure on the NHS is at its most extreme.
However, routine testing will not be restarted and there is no suggestion that public health measures such as mask wearing will be reintroduced.