Indian Covid variant doubles as Boris Johnson hints it could delay lockdown ending on June 21 & is 'ruling nothing out'

CASES of the Indian Covid variant have more than doubled in a week – as Boris Johnson hinted it could delay lockdown ending on June 21.

The number of infections found in the UK has risen from 520 on May 5, to 1,313 today.

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The PM said he is ruling "nothing out", as he vowed to combat the spread of the infectious mutation.

Compared to the Kent variant – which is the dominant virus in the UK – the numbers are very small, but the rate at which they are growing is a concern.

The PM admitted ministers were "very anxious" about the mutation – which could be up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant, although this has not been proven.

As the mutation is a Variant of Concern, surge testing has been deployed in a number of hotspots, with locals told to be extra cautious.

And while there are fears the variant could evade vaccines, a study of jabbed care home workers in Delhi who got infected found none become seriously ill or died.

It is still unclear how the Indian variant reacts to vaccines, but this suggests the mutated virus won't cause high numbers of hospitalisation or death in protected people.

It comes as:

  • Experts warned that the Indian variant could be up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain
  • The work-from-home order should END next month when lockdown is over, the PM said today
  • New variants pose a 'lethal danger' and could spark the worst Covid wave yet, Boris Johnson warned
  • The government announced a full public inquiry into coronavirus, beginning in Spring 2022
  • A senior minister refused to rule out local lockdowns to crack down on Covid hotspots

It comes as new daily Covid cases have risen by 65 per cent in one week, data from the ZOE Covid symptom study app suggests.

Sounding a note of caution on a trip to Durham this morning, the Prime Minister said: "There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out."

He said he was optimistic he could ease restrictions on Monday as planned, and hoped to be able to continue with the June 21 freedoms. 

But he also refused to close down speculation that local lockdowns could return in virus hotbeds such as Bolton.   

The PM said: "It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it. At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen.

"We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do.

"There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out."

Dr Susan Hopkins, COVID-19 Strategic Response Director at PHE, said: "Cases of this variant are rising in the community and we are continuously monitoring its spread and severity to ensure we take rapid public health action.

"We need to act collectively and responsibly to ensure that variants do not impact on the progress we have all made to drive down levels of Covid-19 and the increased freedom that brings.

"That means you should pay attention to and act on the local health advice in your area.

"Testing and isolating when required not only limits spread, it helps us to better understand how the variant behaves in the community which is vital to taking effective and proportionate action moving forward.

"If you’re asked to take a test please do. The way to limit the spread of all variants is the same.

"Keep your distance, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, cover your nose and mouth when inside, keep buildings well ventilated and meet people from other households outside."

From Monday people will be allowed to meet indoors in groups of six for the first time this year.

And on June 21, dubbed Independence Day, all legal restrictions in England will cease.

The PM said: "At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get."

Pressed if masks and social distancing would be scrapped at this point, Mr Johnson said more details would be fleshed out soon.

He added: "I think we have to wait a little bit longer to see how the data is looking but I am cautiously optimistic about that and provided this Indian variant doesn't take off in the way some people fear, I think certainly things could get back much, much closer to normality."

A meeting of the Government's committee of top scientists, SAGE, is being held today and will brief ministers on the Indian variant.  

The threat of new variants is one of the four tests the PM has laid out for proceeding with each step of his lockdown roadmap.

Scientists are confident any third wave, if it materialises at all, will be much smaller thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Professor Adam Kucharski, who works on modelling provided to ministers, said real world data has landed at the "optimistic end of the scale".

But the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) fear the jump in infections may hit the June 21 date to ease restrictions further.

A member of Sage told the i newspaper "a delay is possible" to next month's final step out of lockdown.

More than 36million people in the UK have had at least one dose of a vaccine, with 18.4m receiving both jabs,

 


 

Sage had previously estimated that a third wave could kill 100,000 Brits.

But in estimates released this week it revised the number down to 9,000 deaths "in the worst case scenario" by June 2022.

The B.1.617.2 variant is believed to make up half of all Covid infections in London, Bedford and South Northamptonshire and be spreading 60 per faster than other strains of the virus.

Bolton has seen the highest rise in Indian variant cases, as overall infections  leapt by 93 per cent in a week.

Public Health England has launched surge testing in Bolton to tackle the spread.

Erewash in Derbyshire, Blackburn, Bedford, South Northamptonshire and Sefton and London have also seen increases – with Blackburn now offering jabs to all adults over 18.

There are three Indian variants in the UK, named B.1.617, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3.

Research by The Telegraph found that the main Indian variant of concern – B.1.617.2 – has spread three times as fast as other Covid variants.

Yesterday, case numbers in the UK rose by 2,284, up by seven per cent on last Tuesday's figure.

Mr Johnson stressed the need for caution and vigilance as lockdown is eased, with the next step on May 17.

He said "the end of the lockdown is not the end of the pandemic".

"The World Health Organisation has said that the pandemic has now reached its global peak and will last throughout this year," Mr Johnson told the Commons today.

On Tuesday, Professor Paul Hunter, from the Norwich School of Medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “Fortunately as yet there is no sign that hospitalisations have started to increase in the UK.

“There has been a lot of debate about when and if a further wave of infection will happen in the UK. The reports of today suggest that this wave may have already begun. 

“That hospitalisations have yet to increase would be consistent with the view that vaccine is still effective at reducing the risk of severe disease and gives hope that this new wave, if it indeed continues, will be less damaging to the NHS.”

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