Should we be worried about Covid this winter?

Should we be worried about Covid this winter?

The nights are drawing in, the schools are going back and a new Covid variant is circulating. It all sounds very familiar.

But we are a long way from the autumn of 2020 when the coronavirus dominated our lives and there were different "levels" of lockdown.

So as we head into this autumn what should we expect?

The MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research has played a key role in monitoring new variants of the disease throughout the pandemic.

Prof Massimo Palmarini, who heads the centre, says he is not too worried about what he is seeing but it is important that surveillance continues.

"The new variant doesn't seem to have dramatic differences from the previous one but it doesn't mean that it is not important." 

"There is a concern that if surveillance is cut back too much it will be hard to predict which variants might emerge and which ones will be more worrying than others," he says.

According to Scotland's national public health body the pandemic is now in a "quieter phase".

That means that from the end of this month, testing will be scaled back.

There is to be no more routine testing in hospitals, prisons or care homes.

Instead if you have symptoms you will be tested in the same way as other infectious diseases are monitored.

Meanwhile, new advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) means that the Covid vaccine booster programme is also being scaled back.

This year it will be offered to people aged 65 and over, as well younger people with underlying health conditions and in groups such as health and social care workers or people who live with those who are immunocompromised.

How much Covid is there?

Getting accurate data on Covid cases is much harder now.

The weekly figures from Public Health Scotland only measure the number of patients in hospital with Covid.

It does indicate a slight upward trend since the start of July.      

But this data does not tell us how much Covid is circulating in the community.

Dr Antonia Ho from Centre for Virus Research says: "We don't really have a good sense of what's happening in the community because we don't have much in the way of community surveillance and largely testing isn't happening anymore.”

"That is a worry from a research point of view in terms of being able to look out for potentially more threatening variants.

"We are not sequencing anywhere near as much as we were and obviously the more information you have, the better.

"And we do need a more complete picture in order to identify potential new variants that might cause problems for us."

Lisa Summers