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COVID-19: Indian coronavirus variant expected to become most dominant in UK, says Professor Chris Whitty

Written by on 15 May 2021

The Indian coronavirus variant is expected to become the most dominant in the UK and is more transmissible than the one that originated in Kent, government scientists have said.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “We expect over time this variant will overtake and come to dominate in the UK in the way that B.1.1.7 (Kent variant) took over and other variants have taken over prior to that.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson added that due to high rates of variant cases in Bolton and the North West, England’s easing of restrictions on 21 June could be delayed.

But he sought to reassure the public, saying there is “no evidence” that current COVID-19 vaccines will not be effective against the new strain.

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‘I have to level with you’: PM airs variant concerns

Government scientific advisers say there is a “realistic possibility” that the India variant could be “50% more transmissible” than the one that emerged in Kent.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O) warned it could cause a “significant resurgence” of the virus, as “there are still too few adults vaccinated” to stop its progress.

It said that if transmissibility is between 40% and 50% higher than the Kent strain, the peak in hospitalisations would be “similar or larger” than the ones in spring 2020 and January 2021 – if no restrictions are imposed.

On Thursday, Public Health England (PHE) published data that showed Indian variant cases have doubled in the past week from 520 to 1,313.

It also revealed that four people have died as a result of it, but stressed the overall risk remains low.

Currently India is on the government’s red travel list, which means anyone arriving in the UK from there must stay in a government-sanctioned hotel for 10 days.

But experts and opposition politicians have expressed concern this would still allow the variant to enter the UK.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran told Sky News on Friday that going ahead with Monday’s lifting of the ban on international travel is a “failure of government strategy to contain variants coming into this country”.

“We need to batten down the hatches,” she said.

“It was the Kent variant that we exported, we’ve now got the Indian variant coming back, this won’t be the last of it.”

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50+ and vulnerable to get second jab within 56 days

To mitigate the spread of the variant of concern (VOC), Mr Johnson announced on Friday that the over-50s and clinically vulnerable are now eligible to get their second vaccine doses three weeks sooner than before.

Areas such as Greater Manchester where it appears to be spreading are also lobbying the government to roll out vaccinations to all age groups.

A pharmacy in Sefton on Merseyside is going against government advice and calling everyone over the age of 18 to get their jab.