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Indian variant detected in a number of England’s Covid hotspots, data shows

Data from Public Health England shows a rise in cases from 520 to 1,313 this week in the UK.

Image: Brian Lawless

THE INDIAN CORONAVIRUS variant has been detected in a number of areas in England which are reporting the highest rates of infection, data suggests.

Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows a rise in cases of the Indian variant of concern from 520 to 1,313 this week in the UK, with the agency saying infections were “rising in the community” and it was assessing the impact and severity.

Although the Indian variant is thought to be highly transmissible, vaccines are expected to be effective against it.

The majority of the 1,313 cases of the B16172 variant, which was first identified in India, are in England, with PHE reporting 35 in Scotland, 11 in Wales and 12 in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health and Social Care said most cases are in the North West of England, with some in London.

A PHE report said that 400 (31.9%) of the confirmed and probable cases of the Indian variant in England were in London, followed by 319 (25.4%) in the North West.

Eastern England had 152 cases (12.1%), the East Midlands 129 (10.3%) and there were 98 in the South East (7.8%), while the North East region had the lowest number of cases of the variant at 19 (1.5%).

The variant has been detected in Bolton, Greater Manchester, Blackburn in Lancashire, and Sefton in Merseyside, which have all seen rates rise rapidly.

More vaccine doses have been sent to Bolton, which has a particularly high rate of the Indian variant, while 800,000 PCR tests have been sent to 15 areas of England, including parts of London and Merseyside.

Bolton has the highest rate of any local area in England, with 553 new cases in the seven days to May 9 – the equivalent of 192.3 per 100,000 people.

This is up from 84.9 in the seven days to 2 May.

In Bolton mobile testing units have been deployed and door-to-door PCR testing has been offered to 22,000 residents, while a vaccine bus has been set up to increase uptake among those who are eligible and a rapid response team of 100 nurses, public health advisers and environmental health officers has been sent in.

Erewash in Derbyshire has the second highest rate in the country, but this has been driven by an outbreak at Wilsthorpe Academy in the town of Long Eaton, according to Derbyshire County Council’s director for public health, Dean Wallace.

Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire has the third highest, up from 54.1 to 107.6, with 161 new cases, followed by Bedford where the rate has more than doubled from 39.8 to 86, with 149 new cases.

Blackburn with Darwen Council said yesterday 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.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has submitted a request to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation for all over-16s in Bolton, along with the rest of the Greater Manchester area, to receive a vaccination “to mitigate the risks of spread in those communities where we are seeing more transmission”.

Bedford Borough Council yesterday called for vaccines to be made available for over-16s in the area due to the rapid rise in cases, including the Indian variant.

It said it had been notified of a number of cases of the variant with “mounting evidence that this variant is spreading rapidly in the borough”.

In the Formby area of Sefton, new drive-through and walk-through test centres were set up on Friday, specifically to identify the Indian variant.

The latest case rate in Sefton was 53.9, up from 26 the previous week, with 149 new cases.

Measures have also been brought in elsewhere, including in parts of London.

Hounslow is the London borough with the highest rate at 48.2 per 100,000 people in the seven days to 9 May, with 131 new cases.

The government says surge testing is taking place across London in targeted locations in Hillingdon, Hounslow, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

It is not clear from the website whether this is to identify the Indian variant or other variants more generally.

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The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) confirmed at its press briefing this afternoon that 41 cases of the Indian variant, B1617.2, have been detected in Ireland.

The briefing heard that the Indian variant is likely to be more transmissible than the UK variant.

Asked if outbreaks here could lead to localised restrictions, Dr Holohan said: “When we’ve had the need to, in the past, take specific measures against specific variants, we’ve done that.

“Some of the arrangements are in place in terms of travel are a perfect example of that.”

He added: “There has been a significant increase in community transmission in the UK.”

Chairman of Nphet’s Coronavirus Expert Advisory Group, Dr Cillian De Gascun explained that there are two strains of the Indian variant, B1617.1 and B1617.2.

There have been 20 confirmed cases of the B1617.1  strain and 41 cases of the B1617.2 strain.

He said: “B1617.2 is the one that we’re more concerned about at the moment, based on the experience in India and in the UK.

“Indeed, the fact that it has gotten to 41 in Ireland over the last couple of weeks would be a concern for us as well.”

He added: “I don’t think will be unreasonable to implement public health measures on a basis to allow us to seek more information, whether that’s enhance testing or enhanced contact tracing.”

However, he stressed that this is a hypothetical situation at the moment.

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