New Covid FLiRT variant - symptoms, signs and where you can get vaccinated

A new Covid strain is sweeping across the UK.
A new Covid strain is sweeping across the UK. -Credit:PA

A new Covid variant could be behind a sharp rise in coronavirus infections across the UK. According to the UK Health Security Agency, there has been a sharp increase in Covid hospitalisations and infections in recent weeks.

The new Covid FLiRT variant is thought to behind a sudden 21% rise in coronavirus cases in the UK. The new bug has symptoms similar to earlier versions of the virus, but with some key differences.

Top scientists have said the UK is at 'the start of a Covid wave driven by the FLiRT variants' - but most remain confident the new variant will not cause mass hospitalisations. Here's all you need to know about the new covid FLiRT variant.

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Signs of new Covid variant

Generally, symptoms of the new variant are similar to earlier versions of the virus including continuous coughing, a high temperature, shortness of breath, fatigue and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. Other signs are body aches, a headache, sore throat, blocked or runny nose.

However, Megan L. Ranney, dean of the Yale School of Public Health, told WebMD that FLiRT has some concerning features, like changes in the spike protein, which play a role in helping SARS-CoV-2 colonise the body and make people sick.

What is the new Covid variant?

The unofficial FLiRT nickname was inspired by the names of the mutations in the genetic code of the variants. They descend from JN.1, which had variant BA.2.86 as a parent.

Dr Thomas Russo of the University of Buffalo told Prevention: “These are part of the Omicron family. They’re like siblings.” The UK government has said there is no change to the wider public health advice at this time.

Should we be worried?

Health chiefs in the UK say they will 'continue to monitor these variants as the situation evolves'. The UKHSA said: 'When a new variant appears on our radar, at the initial stages it is often quite difficult to know whether the mutations provide any advantages to the virus.

'Genetic mutations happen all the time, and in some cases have been known to make a virus less transmissible or cause a milder reaction in people.' Medical experts acknowledge that the virus will continue evolving but say they are not especially concerned about KP.2.

People have been urged to get vaccinated to protect against the new Covid variant.
People have been urged to get vaccinated to protect against the new Covid variant. -Credit:PA

Do vaccines work for this variant?

Yes, but it is important for vulnerable patients stay up to date with their Covid jabs. Health experts have urged those with a weakened immune systems, those over the age of 75 and people living in care homes to come forward for their spring vaccination.

Covid vaccines near me

The new spring Covid booster is now being offered to those most at risk from the virus. Vaccines will be available at pharmacies, GP practices and some drop-in vaccination centres.

If you are eligible, you can get a vaccination at a walk-in site without an appointment. You do not need to be registered with a GP.

The NHS will contact you if your NHS record suggests you may be eligible for a further COVID-19 vaccination. To find a vaccination centre near you, click here for more details.