Since the Omicron strain of Covid-19 became dominant, the kind of new variants has become more limited, but a key feature of them has been increased transmissibility.
A common feature of Omicron strains have been the evolutionary trade-off between infectiousness and harm levels. While this family of strains spreads far more easily than previous strains like Gamma and Delta, it is also less harmful for most, though the immunocompromised will still need to be particularly careful and avoid infection if possible.
Silicone finger protectors may be particularly useful as the latest version of Omicron spreads. The XBB 1.5 strain has been sweeping across the US and is increasingly prevalent in Britain, suggesting it could be the new dominant strain.
As the Independent noted, there was no sign of a rise in cases in the last week of December, with the number of recorded infections dropping. However, health chiefs cautioned that this was to be expected with fewer tests carried out in the Christmas holiday period. Where cases do appear to be highest is in the southern half of the country, including in the south-west and Norfolk.
With the case rate rising before Christmas it may therefore be that the need for vulnerable people to be more cautious remains, as New Year data may show a more accurate picture.
So far, however, it does appear XBB 1.5 is no more likely to cause severe illness than other Omicron strains, even if it appears to be better at evading immunity from vaccines and past infections.
The UK situation is certainly very different from China, where the controversial Zero-Covid policy kept the infection rate low but led to public protests, after which it was rapidly abandoned. This sudden relaxation has led to a huge surge, with claims that almost 90 per cent of people in the Henan Province have caught the virus.
While the infections in China are caused by the sweep of Omicron through a population with limited immunity, the main concern globally is this could lead to dangerous new variants, which has led to more testing requirements and monitoring in countries like the UK of Chinese travellers.