Covid cases have reached the highest rates the UK has seen for six months, with almost 1.3 million people currently affected in the UK.
Scientists do not expect the spread to slow anytime soon as temperatures drop and winter sets in.
Amid the rising cases is the onset of a new variant known as Pirola, a descendent of Omicron, which was first detected in Denmark in July of this year.
The new variant accounts for 2.9 per cent of UK cases, which is still much lower than the XBB group of variants, which account for 94 per cent.
Here, i looks at how Covid cases are expected to rise across the UK and the Pirola variant’s role in this.
Are Covid cases rising in the UK?
Cases of Covid-19 across the UK have risen substantially over September, with figures close to reaching double those of last month.
The rise since July is even greater, with the current infection figure of 1.3 million standing as more than double the summer’s number.
However, the current figure is still significantly lower than when cases reached their peak, with 3.8 million cases recorded in April 2022.
Exactly how prevalent Covid currently is has become harder to measure since March of this year, when surveillance by the Office for National Statistics which sampled tens of thousands of UK households every week, was scaled back, and now focuses on water sampling and hospital testing.
What is the new Pirola variant and how fast is it spreading?
The rise in cases this month led to concerns that Pirola, also known as BA.2.86, could be particularly contagious, though scientists now believe it is less infectious than feared.
Instead, they point to waning immunity, cooling weather and the return to workplaces and schools after the summer holidays as the main drivers of a rise in cases.
Pirola has 34 genetic mutations, which sparked concern over a potential to evade the immunity built up by previous infections and vaccinations.
However, according to Professor Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, Pirola cases specifically are not driving the rise and across the globe remain the same or even less than they were two weeks ago.
It is too early to tell exactly how fast it will spread over the winter, scientists say. Rather, it is a case of “watching and waiting” over the coming months, says Professor Steve Griffin, a virologist at the University of Leeds.
Will cases keep going up?
Like other illnesses, Covid cases are expected to be on the rise in coming months as colder weather sets in.
People spending more time inside and in enclosed spaces as summer draws to an end allows the virus to spread more easily.
To pre-empt this, scientists are encouraging people to consider wearing a mask in crowded spaces and to take regular Covid tests.
Researchers are also calling on the Government to make lateral flows available for free, as they were at the height of the pandemic.
There is also a drive to distribute as many booster jabs as possible across the country in the lead up to the winter months.
Booking opened this week for over-65s and the clinically vulnerable to get their booster, with scientists encouraging those eligible to take the offer and also asking the Government to roll the offer out to all over-50s.