Pirola, or BA.2.86, is the latest Omicron strain to appear this summer, sparking concern among experts because it has 34 more mutations, which could make it easier to evade vaccines.
Its emergence comes as the UK has seen 100,516 new cases of Covid as of 10 September, according to The Zoe Health Study.
Pirola has so far been detected in 15 countries worldwide.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed 34 cases of Pirola in England, as of 4 September. Five people have been hospitalised but no deaths have been reported.
Of the 34 cases, 28 were from a single outbreak at a care home in Norfolk, the UKHSA said. The other six cases were located in the east of England, London, and northwest England.
Two cases of Pirola have also been reported in Scotland, according to Public Health Scotland.
What are the symptoms?
Pirola is a strain of Omicron. According to the ZOE Health Study, the five most common symptoms of Omicron are:
- Runny nose
- Fatigue (mild or severe)
- Sneezing, which is one of the most common symptoms.
However, three more symptoms have been commonly reported, according to the New Scientist: diarrhoea, eye irritation and rashes.
Dr Renu Bindra, incident director at UKHSA said: “While BA.2.86 has a significant number of mutations to the viral genome compared to other currently circulating Covid-19 variants, the data so far is too limited to draw firm conclusions about the impact this will have on the transmissibility, severity or immune escape properties of the virus.
“It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this.
“In the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced last week that the autumn vaccine programme will be brought forward to 11 September as a precautionary measure following the emergence of Pirola.