Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Indian coronavirus variant could pose a “serious disruption to our progress” coming out of lockdown as cases involving the new variant have more than doubled in a week.
According to Public Health England (PHE), data shows a steep rise in cases associated with B1617.2 which has been designated as a “variant of concern”.
SAGE experts have said that the new variant could be as much as 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant which lead to the UK’s highest spike in covid cases over winter.
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned that if the variant proves to be a lot more transmissible than other variants, the UK could see “a really significant surge” in cases.
How many cases have been detected in the UK?
There are 1,313 confirmed cases of the B1617.2 variant in the UK, with the majority of cases found in the North West, mainly in Bolton, Sefton in Merseyside and Blackburn in Lancashire.
The Scientific Advisory Group for emergencies (Sage) say there is a “realistic possibility” that the Indian coronavirus variant could be as much as “50% more transmissible” than the Kent strain.
What is being done?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that second doses will be brought forward from the planned 12-week interval to eight weeks.
First doses are also being prioritised for anyone eligible who has not yet come forward including the over 40s.
Door-to-door PCR Covid-19 testing is now being offered to 22,000 residents in Bolton and the army will also be deployed on the streets of Blackburn and Bolton handing out tests.
A vaccine bus has been set up to increase uptake among those who are eligible and a rapid response team of 100 nurses, public health advisers and environmental health officers has been sent in.
Will vaccines still work?
There is no evidence the B1617.2 variant is resistant to current vaccines as it does not feature the E484K mutation found in the South African variant, which could help the virus evade a person’s immune system and may affect how well coronavirus vaccines work.
Will bringing forward second jabs help tackle the rise?
Studies have shown that giving the second dose 12 weeks after the first, instead of 21 days, can produce a stronger immune response so it remains to be seen whether bringing forward the date of the second dose will help curb rising infections.
Is the B1617.2 variant driving the second wave in India?
On Thursday, India recorded 4,000 deaths and 343,144 new Covid-19 infections over the last 24 hours.
Scientists believe B1617.2 may be more transmissible than the UK variant (B117) and may be linked to the second wave in the country.