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COVID-19: No evidence Indian variant can ‘get around’ vaccines, minister says

Written by on 18 April 2021

There is currently “no evidence” the Indian COVID variant can evade vaccines, the environment secretary has said.

The UK has recorded 77 cases of the “double mutant” variant, which is currently being reviewed by British scientists.

George Eustice told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday that although it is “a fairly small number at the moment – it is something that we are watching”.

The environment secretary added: “I’m told there is no evidence at the moment this particular variant is able to get around the vaccine or… that it is necessarily more contagious than the others – but we are looking at it, it will be studied.”

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His comments came a day after a professor of immunology warned the UK should be on its guard against a third wave of coronavirus after the 77 cases of the B.1.617 variant were discovered.

Imperial College’s Danny Altmann said the discovery of the Indian variant should warrant the country being placed on the UK’s “red list” – meaning that incoming travellers are subject to a hotel quarantine.

But Mr Eustice said he had faith in the UK’s scientists.

He told Sophy Ridge: “We’ve got some of the best genomic studies available in this country, we are very good at genome sequencing for different variants and that work is ongoing.”

Patients sit on a bed, waiting to be moved to a hospital in Ahmedabad, India Image: This week, India recorded more than 200,000 new coronavirus infections in a single day

However, he did point to a “wider concern”.

“The biggest threat to everything we’re doing at the moment is that at some point there will be a variant that manages to evade the vaccine or largely evade it, so it is high on our concerns which is why while the vaccine rollout has been incredibly successful with over 60% of the adult population now vaccinated, we continue to proceed with some caution as we come out of lockdown,” he said.

This week, India recorded more than 200,000 new coronavirus infections in a single day as hospitals reported severe shortages of beds and oxygen and extra space had to be found in hotels.

The record number of daily cases – 200,739 – took India’s total past 14m, second only to the United States.

Warnings over the Indian variant come despite the lockdown and vaccine programme leading to cases falling to a seven-month low in England.

COVID-19 infections across the UK dropped to the lowest level since the autumn, according to the latest figures.