A new variant of Covid-19 is sweeping across the UK prompting fears it will put further pressure on Norfolk's already-stretched healthcare system.

The new Covid variant, XBB 1.5, dubbed “The Kraken”, has already been spotted in the UK after spreading through the US.

Health expert Professor Paul Hunter, who specialises in infectious diseases, has said it is likely the variant will cause a surge in Covid cases in a couple of weeks' time.

Fakenham & Wells Times: Professor Paul HunterProfessor Paul Hunter (Image: Archant 2013)

Prof Hunter, based at the University of East Anglia, said: "[Kraken] is already here and it had been spreading in the United States before this.

"It may well lead to a surge of infections, probably rising in a couple of weeks from now.

"When infection rates go up, so the number of people in hospital goes up.

"But I am not sure how high this infection rate will go or how much respiratory disease, hospitalisation or deaths there will be, although it will be nowhere near as high as it was this time last year."

The Kraken - symptoms to watch for

These are the symptoms most commonly being reported at the moment according to a ZOE Health Study.

  • Sore throat
  • Blocked nose
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough no phlegm
  • Headache
  • Cough with phlegm
  • Hoarse voice
  • Muscle pains aches
  • Altered smell

Will Covid vaccines protect against it?

Prof Paul Hunter said there did not seem to be a great deal of difference between the new variant and its predecessors and stressed people who had been vaccinated or had previously been affected would have some immunity against it.

However, the protection offered by Covid vaccinations begins to wane after six months, according to research by the ZOE Health Study. 

How will Norfolk's healthcare system be impacted?

The arrival of the new variant comes as the county's hospitals and NHS services are already struggling to cope, with growing numbers of people needing treatment due to the 'twindemic' of Covid and influenza.

Prof Paul Hunter added: "What the hospitals and the NHS have this year, which they did not have last year, are the high number of flu cases."

Mr Hunter said he was not able to say whether the number of flu cases has peaked and urged people to get flu jabs.

He said: "On average, if you catch flu now, you are more likely to die than if you get Covid now."