For many people, life exactly three years ago may seem to belong to a different world; at that time, Britain and most of the world was in lockdown, Covid was a new and little-known virus and the question of how and when life might return to normal was impossible to answer with any certainty.
Now, a heavily vaccinated population, aided by the mildness of the dominant Omicron strains, is relatively untroubled by the virus, with only a minority of people with underlying conditions at severe risk. The need to get Covid testing in Surrey is rare.
However, it would be foolish to be complacent. The World Health Organization (WHO) and others continue to monitor the virus and, in particular, new ‘variants of concern’. This has already seen updates being provided on variants like XBB1.5, known as the Kraken strain, which has been seen in the UK at a low level.
The latest variant to make headlines is the XBB1.16 strain, which has been named ‘Arcturus’. Whether or not the fact it has its own name to make it more headline-friendly is a factor, this is getting a fair bit of attention and is being closely watched by the WHO.
Arising in India and leading to an increase in cases, it has one spike protein mutation associated with “increased infectivity as well as potential increased pathogenicity,” according to Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead for Covid. Cases have already been recorded in the UK.
It remains to be seen if this might bring a significant new wave, especially as summer is coming and people will be outdoors more and spending less time in confined spaces. But it does show that Covid has not gone away, that more dangerous variants could arise, and that there may yet be more reasons to get tested in the months ahead before travelling.