The Guardian


Charlotte Lytton

ew variant”, “care home outbreak”, “cases rising”: you’d be forgiven if the headlines around Pirola, or BA.2.86, the latest Covid strain to arrive in the UK, had triggered a severe case of pandemic deja vu. More than two years since the UK’s last lockdown, concerns over BA.2.86 – known to have infected dozens of people in the UK as of last weekend, including 28 at a Norfolk care home – have been rising. The worry is over what is “the most striking Sars-CoV-2 strain the world has witnessed since the emergence of Omicron”, according to Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology and director of the University College London Genetics Institute.

That Omicron outbreak resulted in almost half of all Britons getting infected with Covid last year, and we may be facing a repeat performance at what scientists say is the worst possible time. With temperatures falling (colder climes help the virus to thrive), schools and universities returning to large-scale indoor mixing – and at the outset of flu season – the overall rise in infections is already “translating to hospitalisations and deaths, increased NHS pressure, as well as more than a million suffering from