Indian variant ‘will get everywhere’ as cases double for second week in a row

·3-min read
A Covid bus is delivering vaccines in Bolton - Paul Cooper
A Covid bus is delivering vaccines in Bolton - Paul Cooper

Cases of the new Indian variant have more than doubled for the second week in a row – with 1,313 cases confirmed – and some scientists fearing the B.1.617.2 variant will become dominant in the UK.

The clusters remain predominantly located in the North West and London, but health officials in Bedford have also raised alarm at an apparent spike.

In Blackburn, where multi-age surge vaccination will take place from Monday, as well as Bolton, the B.1.617.2 variant is thought to have driven a doubling of infections over the past seven days.

It has spread three times faster than previous variants of concern, such as that from South Africa, according to analysis by the Telegraph.

Experts are now urgently trying to establish to what extent the new Indian variant is more transmissible than the dominant one discovered in Kent last year, and whether it can get round the protection offered by vaccines.

Professor James Naismith, from the University of Oxford, said B.1.617.2 should be viewed as a country-wide problem.

“It will get everywhere,” he said.

“We keep learning this lesson, but we know that this will be the case.”

Another scientist, Professor Tom Wenseleers, at the University of Leuven, said the new variant could be out-competing others by up to 60 per cent.

Meanwhile, Public Health England figures show that vaccines have saved almost 12,000 lives.

It came as separate figures from PHE showed that, up until the end of April, vaccines stopped at least 33,000 people aged 65 and over from needing hospital treatment and saved 11,700 lives among those aged 60 and over. Figures estimated that 9,900 lives were saved among people aged 80 and over, 1,500 in those aged 70 to 79-years-old, and 300 in those aged 60 to 69-years-old.

In addition, Public Health England announced that case rates overall have increased across most areas of England, most sharply in the North West, followed by the East Midlands.

In the North West the rate was 32.6 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to May 9, up from 25.5 the previous week, while in the East Midlands it increased from 23.1 to 29.8 over the same period.

Slight increases were also recorded in the East of England, London, North East and South West, which had the lowest rate at 13.1, up from 12.2.

Yorkshire and the Humber recorded the highest rate at 40.5 cases per 100,000 people, down slightly from 42.5 in the previous week.

Professor Naismsith said it was too early to say whether the Indian variant could frustrate vaccine efficacy.

“The vaccines don’t 100 per cent prevent infection for people.

“What they do is they almost 100 per cent prevent hospitalisation and serious illness.

“We don’t know enough to know yet whether the Indian strain will behave differently than that.”

Case rates in England have remained stable among most age groups, with a slight rise in children, teenagers and people in their 40s, PHE said.

The age group with the highest rates was those aged 10 to 19-years-old with 51.5 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to May 9, up week-on-week from 42.4.

Other age groups reporting slight increases were five to nine-year-olds, up from 16.5 to 18.5; and 40 to 49-year-olds, up from 25.0 to 26.3.

The lowest case rates were in those aged 80 and above at 4.1.

Bedford has also seen a doubling of cases in the past week, with now 84.3 per 100,000.

Louise Jackson, the Labour councillor in charge of public health, said whole households were coming down with the virus in quick succession, suggesting it is a more transmissible variant.

She urged residents not to hug and to stay outdoors even after Monday’s reopening.

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