COVID-19 lateral flow tests should be made free again amid the spread of a new variant of the virus, an infection expert has said.

Professor Rowland Kao, from the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC's Sunday Show that some people may not be able to afford the tests and that it was important to track the spread of the virus ahead of the winter months.

The new BA.2.86 variant, unofficially called Pirola, is a mutated version of Omicron, which caused a surge in cases in late 2021 and 2022.

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It comes as Public Health Scotland (PHS) has found increased Covid trace in wastewater.

Meanwhile, the Pirola variant has been found in several countries including Canada, the US and Israel.

But as testing for the virus has been scaled back in the UK and across the globe, it is difficult to determine how much the increase in Covid cases has been caused by this new variant.

Lateral flow tests were previously free for all citizens to order until the UK Government stopped funding the supply in April 2022.

The National:

PHS said that the accuracy of wastewater testing is variable and results should be treated with caution.

"It is a very new situation,” Kao (above), veterinary epidemiology and data science chair, told the Sunday Show.

"The important thing to remember is that Covid still has the capacity to surprise - we're not in any kind of settled pattern.

"We have signals that are telling us, even without any new variants, that Covid might be getting worse.

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"We have this variant which is quite different from the things that have happened before."

He added that there is no evidence to suggest the new variant is more harmful than previous strains of the virus.

However, the number of Covid cases in Scotland has been increasing since the beginning of July, but the exact number of cases is difficult to track due to lack of testing.

"If you find you have symptoms, you should be isolating if you can," Kao said.

The National: Lateral flow test kit

"If you can, get a lateral flow test, and I would like to see lateral flow tests become freely available again because a lot of the people who would be taking them, can't afford them.

"I know nothing is cheap, but a lot can be done by getting more data from people."

One lateral flow test can cost between £1.75 and £2.50, depending on the store selling them.

More data systems, Kao said, would be useful to track cases as the virus cannot be predicted using year-on-year trends.

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"The fact that we've got this rise now tells us something is going on that hasn't happened before," he said.

"So we need to wait at least a couple more years before that settling down is likely to occur."

PHS and the Scottish Government are working to bring winter vaccinations forward for those at higher risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 or the flu. This includes those aged over 75, care home residents and those with weakened immune systems who were due to be vaccinated from mid-October.

The National: File photo dated 07/01/21 of staff nurses on a hospital ward. The NHS is likely to remain on a "crisis footing" with rising waiting lists despite extra funding, it has been said. The health service will receive an extra £3.3

Jillian Evans, the head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, said the health board has seen an increase in the number of elderly patients admitted with Covid-19 since July.

She said that while numbers are still low there is a “rising trend” and urged the Scottish Government to consider widening vaccinations to those aged over 50.

"There is a cost associated with vaccination," she said.

"But the cost of not doing it - such as people being off work, going into hospitals - is something that needs to be considered."