Indian variant cases more than DOUBLE in a week with 3,424 infections now in UK
INDIAN variant cases have more than doubled in a week with over 3,000 Brits now infected.
Some date back to mid-April when the strain first arrived in the UK before rapidly spreading.
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Public Health England said today 3,424 cases have now been found, a rise of 2,111 since last week.
Cases are still largely affecting the North West of England – particularly Bolton – and London, but clusters of cases are now being seen across the country.
Yesterday the Health Secretary revealed infections had risen from 2,323 on Monday, to 2,967.
Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen and Bedford have been the main areas where worrying numbers of cases had been identified.
Matt Hancock also revealed surge testing has started in eight new areas – Bedford, Burnley, Hounslow, Kirklees, Leicester, North Tyneside, Glasgow and Moray (on top of Bolton and Blackburn).
Announcing the "surge testing" in several more areas, he said "the race between the virus and the vaccine has got a whole lot closer".
Scientists are certain the Indian variant B.1.617.2 can spread faster than the “original” coronavirus strain from Wuhan.
And they are also now certain it is more transmissible than the highly infectious Kent strain – possibly by up to 50 per cent.
Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive, UK Health Security Agency, said: “As cases of VOC-21APR-02 continue to rise, it is absolutely vital that people living in areas where prevalence is high come forward to get the vaccine. It is the best defence we have against the spread of this disease.
“As we start to get back to normal life, it is very important that we do not become complacent. All of us need to remain responsible and vigilant. Get tested regularly, get the vaccine when offered it, and practice 'hands, face, space, fresh air'. It will save lives.”
But the positive news is vaccines appear to work against it as they would normally, with data suggesting the AstraZeneca jab is up to 97 per cent effective.
Today another variant has been dubbed a Variant Under Investigation by PHE. VUI-21MAY-01 has been monitored since April.
There have been 49 cases across the country to date, mainly concentrated in Yorkshire and the Humber.
The NHS is now in a race to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible against the spread of the Indian variant.
At least 30 per cent of adults are still waiting for one vaccine dose.
The programme began inviting those aged 35 and 34 today, and it is believed those left in their thirties will start being invited in the next few days.
I think what we can see is that this strain can circulate very effectively… so I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country.
Vaccinating has also been ramped up in hotspots of the Indian variant.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that extra vaccine supplies were being deployed in a series of areas, alongside surge testing.
Mr Hancock said yesterday: “The weekly case data in Bolton is now 283 per 100,00 and it doubled in the last week.
“There are now 25 people in Bolton Hospital with Covid – the majority are unvaccinated, nearly 90 per cent have not yet had two vaccines.
“This shows the importance of getting vaccinated, not once but twice.”
The impact of a new, faster spreading variant in the UK is not yet known.
Sage papers said it could lead to a third wave bigger than the one seen in January.
A professor from Sage said today the third wave may have already started.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Professor Andrew Hayward, an infectious diseases expert at University College London, said he was “very concerned” about the Indian variant due to its ability to spread quickly.
Asked on BBC Breakfast if the country was at the start of the third wave, he said: “I think so.
“I think what we can see is that this strain can circulate very effectively… so I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country.
“Obviously we’re doing everything we can to contain the spread of that, but it’s likely that more generalised measures may start to be needed to control it.”
But others are more optimistic; today a leading expert said he did not see a reason for the Indian variant to become widespread.
Prof Tim Spector said outbreaks of the South African and Brazilian variants have been contained multiple times.
He added it was “highly unlikely” the Indian variant would cause the NHS to “be overrun or stop us coming out of lockdown”, and that people did not need to panic.
No 10 said it was “still too early” to determine whether the Indian variant could delay lifting all coronavirus restrictions on June 21.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “At the moment we are keeping a very close eye on the data.
“There is still, similar to yesterday, not been any significant changes that currently suggest we need to change our course of action.
“We are monitoring that very carefully but it is still too early to make a definitive judgment.
“We will monitor the data, crucially both on hospitalisation rates in these outbreak areas and the ongoing work on the transmissibility – both that work is ongoing, so we will aim to update next week.”
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