What are the latest news?
The number of identified cases of the Indian variant in the UK has more than doubled in a week, from 520 to 1,313, according to the most recent figures. The areas with the highest numbers so far include Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Erewash in Derbyshire and Bedford, all in England, and Moray in Scotland.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said Sunday that it was “quite likely” that it would become the dominant variant in the UK, just as the Kent variant did after its appearance in December. Cases are being detected in new places every day, including Essex, Cambridge and London in recent days. A public health director in an area where the first cases have just emerged said: “To be honest, it’s everywhere.”
How transmissible is it?
That is the key question that concerns scientists and ministers. According to the minutes of a meeting last Tuesday of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage), advisers believe that the transmission of B.1.617.2, as the Indian variant is known, “is currently faster than that of B.1.1 .7 variant ”- the Kent variant. Cases are doubling in a week or less in some areas, Sage reported.
They said it was … “very likely that this variant is more transmissible than B.1.1.7, and it is a realistic possibility that it is up to 50% more transmissible.”
How much threat does the new variant represent?
Hancock said Sunday that it could “spread like wildfire among unvaccinated groups.” In Bolton, the “vast majority” of people hospitalized with Covid linked to the Indian variant had not accepted his offer of a jab, he added.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, a former chief scientific adviser to the government, has said the pandemic is at a “dangerous time.” Sage member Professor John Edmunds said that while the Indian variant posed “a new threat”, the UK was in a much better position than before Christmas, shortly after the Kent variant was discovered.
“I think we should be concerned but not panic. We’re in a much, much better place now than when the Kent bypass hit us for the first time in November, December, ”Edmunds said. “Now hospitals are … practically empty of Covid patients and two-thirds of the adult population have been vaccinated.”
Do vaccines against the Indian variant work?
There is a cautious optimism that they do. Hancock said “new and very early data” from the University of Oxford gives confidence that the vaccines in use in the UK – Oxford / AstraZeneca, Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna – confer protection against it. As a result, he believes that the next planned step of reopening the company can safely go ahead on Monday.
John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, is equally optimistic. He told Times Radio this weekend: “In terms of serious illness, hospital admissions and death, I think the vaccinated population will be fine and we just have to get over this.”
But Independent Sage member Dr. Kit Yates cautioned: “Vaccines don’t work 100%. If Covid is allowed to circulate at high levels among the unvaccinated population, there will still be a small proportion of vaccinated people who can contract the disease and become seriously ill. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism