Covid-19: what to know about UK's new Juno and Pirola variants

Rapidly spreading new JN.1 strain is 'yet another reminder that the pandemic is far from over'

Covid-19 picture
The new variant is now accounting for 65% of all UK Covid cases, according to the latest data
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A new Covid-19 variant has exploded in recent weeks to become the world's most dominant strain, despite accounting for just 4% of cases in early November.

First detected in France and the US, the JN.1 strain – also referred to as "Juno" – is spreading rapidly in the UK. Over the past month, the new variant has accounted for 47.5% of all UK Covid cases. The most recent data suggests the figure has risen to 65%.

Experts suspect that "socialising over the Christmas and New Year period has helped fuel the rise of the variant", said the Daily Mirror.

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Where did Juno come from?

Juno was "first tracked as part of the BA.2.86 'Pirola' strain", said The Independent, but has now been classified as a sub-variant by the World Health Organization (WHO), and a "variant of interest in its own right". Juno differs from Pirola by just a single spike protein.

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University, told the Mirror: "The rapid rise of infections with the JN.1 variant in the UK and across the world is yet another reminder that the pandemic is far from over. JN.1 is one of the most immune-evading variants to date and is likely to be the lineage from which new variants will evolve."

Both the Pirola and Juno strains descended from Omicron, the last Covid strain to have been issued a Greek letter by the WHO. In late 2021, Omicron came "flying in out of left field", said Fortune. It was "so highly mutated, so drastically different that it changed the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic", with Covid and Omicron becoming "all but synonymous", the site said.

Now Juno has achieved similar global dominance, but whether WHO will recognise it with an official Greek letter "remains to be seen", Fortune added. 

Is Juno more dangerous than previous variants?

Juno appears to be "especially adept at infecting those who have been vaccinated or previously infected", said The Washington Post. As well as experiencing huge growth in the UK, it is also the fastest growing variant in the United States.

While highly contagious, Juno "is not thought to be any more severe than other recent Covid variants", said the i news site. However, reduced levels of vaccinations in the past two years "have increased the risk of serious symptoms when people become infected", the paper added.

Although Covid "no longer poses the same threat as it did when it burst onto the scene in early 2020, thousands are currently in hospital with the virus every day", Mail Online said.

And the latest rise in infections comes as "NHS facilities are already juggling with a spike in flu and other seasonal bugs", the site added. 

Covid-19 "is still causing lasting personal and economic damage", said Alice Thomson in The Times. Rishi Sunak recently advised the UK to "stick with the plan", but "there is no pandemic plan any more", she said. The government has gone from "locking down the entire country to ignoring the situation".

How do I protect myself from Juno and Pirola?

Vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself from the latest strains, "but it isn't a 100 per cent guarantee", said the Daily Record

Doctors have encouraged anyone who is eligible for a vaccine booster to get one if they haven't already done so. Dr Heidi Zapata, from Yale Medicine, said: "I would advise getting your updated vaccine, consider masking in certain situations, and if you get sick, please test for Covid because you can get medicine to treat it."

Further to that, the same approaches to minimising exposure apply to the current variants. People should be "washing their hands regularly, as well as wearing masks in public spaces and ventilating their rooms correctly", the Daily Record said.

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