People need to stop panicking every time a new coronavirus variant is reported, a leading scientist has said, as Boris Johnson revealed he was “anxious” about the rise of the Indian variant in the UK.
B16172, which was first identified in India, was last week designated as a “variant of concern” by experts from Public Health England (PHE) after small clusters of cases were detected across the country.
Professor Robert Dingwall, who is a member of Nervtag (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) – an expert committee which advises the Government on the threat posed by new respiratory viruses – said that while B16172 may be capable of becoming the dominant variant in the UK, the risk of a surge in deaths or hospital admissions remains low.
He told the PA news agency: “B16172 seems to be slightly more transmissible and capable of outcompeting the B117 (UK variant) or B1351 (South African variant) to become the dominant variant in the UK.
“The consequence of this would be a greater number of mild illnesses with little risk of a surge in hospitalisations or deaths.
“This variant seems to be better managed by the vaccines than the South African variant so that vaccinated people have only a very low risk of infection that is likely to be mild.”
He said data from India shows that people who have been fully vaccinated, like healthcare workers, are not developing infections.
Prof Dingwall, of the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University, said with the B16172 variant, the “risk is of a greater number of mild infections rather than an increased proportion of mild infections turning into serious ones”.
He told PA: “This may lead to a slightly higher exit wave of infection than the latest modelling suggests – but this would not be of serious illnesses.
“We need to stop panicking about every new variant that comes along.”
It comes as the Prime Minister hinted during a visit to Durham that local restrictions may be needed to curb any further rise in infections linked to B16172.
He said: “It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it.
“At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen.
“We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do.
“There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out.”
B16172 is one of four mutated versions of coronavirus designated as being “of concern”, alongside B117, B1351 and P1 (Brazil variant).
Experts believe it may be linked to India’s surge in infections and driving the country’s second wave.
On Thursday, India recorded 4,120 deaths and 362,727 new Covid-19 infections over the last 24 hours.