On Friday 8 September, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) issued its latest update on the COVID-19 BA.2.86 variant. We understand that for many in the sector, press interest and speculation about this new variant is concerning.

We recognise the immense efforts that all those working in adult social care have made over recent years and want to reassure you that we will continue to ensure measures are risk-based and proportionate. Vaccinations, COVID-19 treatments, and following IPC guidance remain the best way to help protect against COVID-19 across adult social care.

The UKHSA has confirmed in its technical briefing, 34 confirmed cases of BA.2.86 have been identified in England as of 4 September 2023. Of these, five were hospitalised and no deaths due to COVID-19 have been reported amongst these cases. The cases include an outbreak in a care home which were initially identified by following current LFD outbreak guidance, with PCR testing of staff and residents after this was escalated to the local health protection team. The majority of residents and all staff have now recovered.

UKHSA note that while this means there is a degree of community transmission, it is too early to draw conclusions on the transmissibility, severity, or immune escape properties of the virus. UKHSA are monitoring the situation closely and we will keep you updated.

In the meantime, there are a number of steps that providers can continue to take;

Encourage staff and service users to take up the latest COVID-19 and flu vaccinations when offered

The government had already taken the precautionary step of bringing forward the NHS’s Autumn/Winter vaccination programme, as this is the best way to boost the immunity of those most vulnerable to coronavirus. Vaccination teams are now contacting providers and people who are homebound to arrange visits.

Staff are encouraged to book their vaccinations as early as possible via the Local Booking Services from 11 September, and the National Booking Service (NBS) from 18 September. Appointments can also be booked via the NHS App, or through 119.

Ensure PPE is available to be used in line with risk assessments

Providers should continue to use PPE where appropriate and ensure this is available for staff. Care workers do not routinely need to wear a face mask; however, they should be worn if:

  • A person being cared for is suspected or known to have COVID-19.
  • If a care recipient would prefer staff to where a mask while providing care.  

We hope this update is helpful and thank you again for all your work to protect people across adult social care.