WHO issues new warning over winter flu surge and COVID wave

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2022/01/26: A NHS staff member administers flu jab to a man at a doctor's surgery. (Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Vulnerable people have been urged to get flu and COVID jabs. (Getty)

The World Health Organization has warned that COVID infections are increasing in Europe while flu cases are also expected to rise.

The WHO and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have said another wave of coronavirus may have begun to tick up across the region.

They stressed the “pandemic is still not over” and advised vulnerable groups, including people over 60 years old, pregnant women and those with co-morbidities, to get vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19.

WHO's region-wise data showed that only Europe recorded a rise in COVID-19 cases in the week ended 2 October, clocking an increase of 8% from the prior week.

Read more: COVID hospital admissions double in two weeks in England

A woman squeezing the sample liquid on a test strip while carrying out a Covid-19 rapid self test at home.
COVID cases are increasing across Europe. (Getty)

"Although we are not where we were one year ago, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over," WHO's Europe director, Hans Kluge, and ECDC's director, Andrea Ammon, said in a joint statement.

"We are unfortunately seeing indicators rising again in Europe, suggesting that another wave of infections has begun."

The latest figures show COVID-19 infections in the UK jumped 25% to their highest level since mid-August.

Some 1.3 million people in private households across the UK are likely to have tested positive for coronavirus in the week to 26 September, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is up from 1.1 million in the previous week.

Read more: Blood test when people are infected ‘can predict who will develop long COVID’

It is the highest UK-wide total since the week to 16 August but is still some way below the 3.8 million weekly infections in early July, at the peak of the wave caused by the Omicron BA.4/BA.5 subvariants of the virus.

There is a lag in the reporting of the ONS data due to the time it takes for the survey to be compiled.

More recent figures show the number of people in hospital who have tested positive for COVID is now on a clear upwards trend in much of the country, suggesting a fresh wave of coronavirus is underway.

In Scotland, the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 increased by 12.6% last week, according to the latest figures.

In the week ending 9 October, there were on average 838 patients in hospital with COVID, up from 744 the previous week, Public Health Scotland (PHS) data showed.

Flu cases are expected to rise in autumn and winter. (Getty)
Flu cases are expected to rise in autumn and winter. (Getty)

The UK could suffer a “devastating” COVID wave this autumn fuelled by poor surveillance of potentially immune-evasive subvariants and a reduction in testing.

Virologist professor Lawrence Young, from the University of Warwick, said there was concern over Omicron subvariants – BA.2.75.2 (from BA.2) and BQ1.1 (from BA.5).

He told The Independent: “What’s interesting about these variants is that although they’re slightly different in how they’ve come about they’ve come up with the same changes to get around the body’s immune system.”

Public health experts have warned that vaccine fatigue and confusion over available vaccines will likely limit booster uptake in Europe.

Millions of people across the region remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, the WHO and ECDC said.