Boris Johnson discusses potential measures for Indian variant
In advance of a briefing at 1.30pm today, a statement issued by the Independent SAGE group of scientists outlined a six-point plan in the face of increasing concern about the prevalence of the strain in the UK, especially in the north-east of England. And the group also urged the Prime Minister to take “immediate action” in the face of the rapidly-evolving threat.
The Indian variant is just one of numerous mutations to the novel coronavirus which was emerged in Wuhan in China at the end of 2019, and which has since spread across the globe.
Independent SAGE’s statement highlights new evidence suggesting the new strain, officially known as B.1.617.2 is up to 60 percent more transmissible than B.1.1.7 (the original strain) and may also have some degree of vaccine resistance.
Cases of B.1.617.2 have increased substantially more rapidly than other variants since the first case was detected, and have trebled in the past week.
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Especially high rates have been recorded in Bolton, Blackburn, Darwen, Bedford and Sefton, where it is the dominant variant.
The statement said: “Independent SAGE urges the UK government to take immediate action given that one of the four tests for proceeding with the ‘roadmap’ out of Covid restrictions is that ‘the assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern’.
“Considering the latest evidence, Independent SAGE proposes a six-point plan of action to deal with the B.1.617.2 variant and to be prepared for future variants.”
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- global and local vaccination supported by a waiver of patent rights
- improved border controls and supported quarantine
- improved local systems of outbreak control
- surge vaccination in areas experiencing outbreaks of the new variant
- limited indoor mixing particularly in areas with proven high levels of the new variant
- continued vigilance as the latest data relating to vaccine escape and transmissibility is considered
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Public Health England today confirmed four people have died with the strain between May 5 and 12, out of 97 total COVID-19 deaths.
Surge testing is currently underway in areas of the North West.
Blackburn with Darwen Council initially said on Thursday that it would be offering vaccines to all over-18s from next week following the increase in cases, but later said that, although additional vaccine clinics are being set up, the jab will only be offered to those eligible under current Government guidance.
Public Health England a week ago labelled the mutation a “variant of concern,” citing evidence that it spreads more quickly than the original version of the virus and could spread at least as quickly as the so-called “Kent” variant, which fuelled England’s second wave of infections.
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Britain put India on a travel “red list” in April, meaning all arrivals from the South Asian country – now suffering the world’s worst wave of COVID-19 – would have to pay to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Media reports at the time suggested that, because the quarantine requirement was announced four days in advance, many people sought to fly beforehand between the two countries, which have close cultural ties.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Johnson told reporters: “It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it, it has been spreading.
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“At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen.
“We want to make sure that we take all the prudential, all the cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do.”
Mr Johnson insisted he was “ruling nothing”, including further lockdowns.
He explained: “There are a range of things that we could do. We want to make sure that we grip it.
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“Obviously there’s surge testing, surge tracing, making sure that whenever you have a case you check everybody who has been in contact with that person.
“If we have to do other things, then, of course, the public would want us at this stage to rule nothing out.
“We have always been very clear we would be led by the data.”
However, with further relaxations to the rules set to be introduced next week, he added: “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 that we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get.”
(This is a breaking news story – more to follow)