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With Covid cases on the rise in the UK, a government body has urged people to stay home and avoid contact with others if they experience symptoms of infection.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) issued a fresh warning about what to do if you have Covid in response to fears over the spread of the highly-mutated Pirola strain.

Also known as the BA.2.86 variant, it was first detected in the UK in August after also being identified in Denmark, the US, Canada and other countries.

Pirola is a descendant of the highly contagious Omicron variant, which arrived in the UK in 2021 and quickly became the dominant strain.

Now experts fear the Pirola variant could cause a similar spike in infections, alongside the Eris strain that led to an increase in cases earlier this year.

In a blog update, the UKHSA said it had been “receiving a lot of questions about the BA.2.86 Covid variant”.

The health body explained that without mass testing currently operating, only a small number of cases have so far been found around the world.

“We will need more data to draw any conclusions about the effect of these mutations on transmissibility and severity of the variant,” it said.

What to do if you experience symptoms

The UKHSA stressed the importance of lowering contact with others if you believe you could have Covid.

It stated: “If you have symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as COVID-19, and you have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to go to work or carry out normal activities, you should avoid contact with vulnerable people and stay at home if possible.

“For those of us who absolutely can’t stay at home, our Living with Covid guidance is unchanged, and outlines how to prevent transmission to others.”

If you have no choice but to go out into public, the UKHSA recommended the following steps to help protect others:

  • Wearing a well-fitting face covering made with multiple layers or a surgical face mask
  • Avoiding crowded places such as public transport, large social gatherings, or anywhere that is enclosed or poorly ventilated
  • Taking any exercise outdoors in places where you will not have close contact with other people
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose and before you eat or handle food; avoid touching your face.

As previously reported by, common symptoms of the Pirola strain include:

  • Sore throats
  • Runny or blocked noses
  • Coughs (with or without phlegm)
  • Headaches.

The full list of possible Covid symptoms, according to the NHS, is:

  • A high temperature or shivering
  • A new, continuous cough
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • An aching body
  • A headache
  • A sore throat
  • A blocked or runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling sick or being sick.


As a result of rising cases in the UK, the autumn vaccine program for vulnerable groups has been brought forward a month.

The UKHSA said it was vital people take up invitations. “Vaccines remain our best defence against severe disease and hospitalisation from flu and COVID-19,” it said.

“That’s why we’re asking over-65s, anyone in a clinical risk group, and anyone living in a household with someone who is in a clinical risk group, to come forward for their vaccination.

“Their protection since their last vaccination will have waned and they remain at increased risk from a respiratory infection this winter.

“It’s also important to note that COVID-19 isn’t a special case; respiratory infections can be unpredictable, and we’re asking similar groups to get vaccinated against flu.

“The government has decided to bring forward the COVID-19 autumn vaccination campaign, as a precautionary measure to ensure those people who are most vulnerable and at higher risk of severe disease have the best available protection.

“It can take a few weeks for protection to build after a vaccine, so getting vaccinated ahead of the winter season, when respiratory viruses tend to peak, is important.”

According to government figures, there were a total of 11,668 Covid cases in England, 328 in Wales, and 1,615 in Scotland in the seven days up to September 8.

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