Experts are warning that the UK may have let its guard down over the Pirola variant of Covid-19.

Concern is mounting over the BA.2.86 coronavirus variant which is spreading quickly causing the government to bring forward its autumn Covid booster programme by four weeks.

Experts such as Professor Lawrence Young have warned the UK’s strategy against Covid-19 in recent months has left it vulnerable to new and more dangerous variants.

Professor Young said there was a “general misplaced view” that there was no longer any need to be worried about the virus.

The rise of the potentially hazardous Pirola variant comes as millions of children return to school and thoughts turn to colder weather on the horizon.

Speaking to the Independent, Professor Young said: “At the moment we’ve let our guard down and we’re quite blind to what’s going on.”

He added there was “a general misplaced view that there’s is no longer a need to be worried about Covid“.

Professor Young said one of the reasons why Pirola was of concern was not just because of the virus itself, but due to the inability to track it.

He explained: “We’ve completely removed all mandatory testing, we’ve removed the ONS survey, so we’re in quite an interesting situation. What this is telling us is Covid hasn’t gone away.”

He added: “Now testing isn’t free and people have to buy lateral flow tests.

“If people have coughs and colds, would they go back to work? They probably would, even if they tested positive.

“This [variant] is popping up all over the place at the moment, but we’re not monitoring it in the population.”

Professor Young agrees that masks should be worn in hospitals and ventilation should be increased in schools.

He said: “I can see we’re going to be in a situation over the winter period where we’re wearing face masks.”

While Professor Young is worried about the Pirola variant and its potential for devastation, he is also optimistic.

He said the UK’s exposure to vaccines and the virus is working in its favour when it comes to mitigating the worst outcomes.

To try and combat a wave of Covid cases this winter, the government is re-launching its Covid booster programme.

In a statement, the chair of Covid-19 immunisation on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Professor Wei Shen Lim said: “The autumn booster programme will continue to focus on those at greatest risk of getting seriously ill.

“These persons will benefit the most from a booster vaccination. It is important that everyone who is eligible takes up a booster this autumn – helping to prevent them from hospitalisations and deaths arising from the virus over the winter months.”

Director at the United Kingdom Health Security Agency, Dr Mary Ramsay, added: “The Covid-19 virus has not gone away and we expect to see it circulating more widely over the winter months with the numbers of people getting ill increasing.”

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