The BA.2.86 Covid variant was first identified in the UK on 18 August, with further cases recently spotted in England and Scotland.

So, how severe is the new variant and how many cases have there been in the UK so far?

Here’s the latest update on BA.2.86.

How many cases of the BA.2.86 variant has the UK had?

As of 4 September 2023, the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA) had confirmed 34 cases of BA.2.86 in England, among people in the East of England, London, and North West England.

Of the 34 total cases in England, five were hospitalised, and no deaths due to COVID-19 have been reported.

Though it’s important to remember that that doesn’t mean five in every 34 people infected with this type of coronavirus (or 14 per cent) are being hospitalised. These are just the people who have taken PCR covid tests (not lateral flow tests), and had the results “sequenced” in a lab to confirm which variant of Covid they’ve caught. There will be other people who are infected but haven’t had tests, or haven’t had their tests sequenced.

Twenty-eight of England’s confirmed cases of BA.2.86 were from a single outbreak at a care home in Norfolk, with specialists from UKHSA working with Norfolk County Council to offer infection control advice and support.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) said two cases of BA.2.86 have been identified through PCR testing in the country as of 4 September. Scottish wastewater surveillance data provided to PHS have also identified the presence of BA.2.86 in a different NHS Health Board (it has not named either health board).

No cases of the variant have been reported in Wales or Northern Ireland to date.

Is the BA.2.86 Covid variant spreading within the UK?

The UKHSA said on Friday 8 September there is a “continued slow accumulation of cases globally” of the variant, including cases reported from new countries.

The data suggests there is established community transmission of BA.2.86 within the UK, which means it’s spreading between people in this country, rather than just being “seeded” here by people who’ve recently been abroad.

UKHSA reached this conclusion after detecting multiple unlinked cases in different regions of the UK, among people with no known travel overseas.

However, the agency says there is not currently enough data to conclude what the extent of this transmission might be.

Can BA.2.86 cause more severe illness than previous Covid variants?

The UKHSA said there is “an insufficient number of cases to make an assessment of outcome or severity” of disease caused by BA.2.86.

If and when more people start being hospitalised with the variant, we’ll be able to compare data with previous Covid strains, though the UKHSA says this will take weeks to materialise. That’s because there is usually several weeks between someone catching Covid and someone needing hospital treatment.