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Passengers speak to staff at the entrance to the Covid-19 Testing Centre at London's Heathrow Airport. PA
indian variant

UK adds India to its hotel quarantine list, as three cases of B.1.617 variant confirmed in Ireland

The ‘Indian variant’ is not a variant of concern, but it is under investigation – and being monitored closely in Ireland.

INDIA HAS BEEN added to the UK’s coronavirus “red list” for travel, in response to mounting concern about the number of cases there and the emergence of a variant ‘of interest’.

The move, announced just hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to cancel a trip to the country, comes into force at 4am on Friday, meaning British citizens returning after that point will be forced to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

Anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident, or a British citizen, will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said so far 103 cases of the Covid-19 variant first detected in India (also known as the ‘Indian variant’, or B.1.617) had been identified in the UK.

This is not a variant of concern, but it is a variant of interest which is under investigation.

The UK’s decision on India restrictions was taken “on a four-nation basis”, the Scottish Government said.

Ireland’s response

At a National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) briefing this evening, it was confirmed that there are three cases of the Covid-19 variant first detected in India in the Republic of Ireland.

At least two of them are associated with travel, said Dr Cillian De Gascun, Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory and Chair of the NPHET Coronavirus Expert Advisory Group.

When asked whether India would be added to Ireland’s mandatory hotel quarantine list due to this variant, Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said:

We have a process in place which looks at all of the international data… and we will be reviewing data in relation to this mutation.

There have been a total of 24 cases of the P1 variant in Ireland, also known as the Brazilian variant, and 55 cases of B.1351 variant, also known as the South African variant. These, and the B.117 ‘British’ or Kent’ variant, are the only variants of concern at the moment.

The Acting CMO cautioned people about being too absorbed in news of emerging variants, particularly as all vaccines are effective against the B117 variant dominant in Ireland currently.

 “Some of the commentary, speculation and coverage internationally of variants is really disproportionate to either what we know at present or the actual real-world impact of these to date,” said Dr Glynn.

“It’s not that we’re not concerned, it’s not that we don’t need to remain vigilant but I would be concerned that people looking at some of the coverage of this internationally would feel a real sense of powerlessness.”

Dr Glynn said that the nature of viruses is that they replicate, and that Ireland should continue to monitor variants and avoid importing cases of new variants, but that people should continue to do what they have done throughout the pandemic.

“From an individual perspective out there in Ireland tonight, the best thing people can do is do all the things they have been doing and get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is offered to them.”

Cillian De Gascun said that describing the Indian variant as having a ‘double mutation’ “isn’t really helpful or accurate in the context of what we’re looking at”.

“Variants of concern have become variants of concern primarily or at least in part because they have a significant number of mutations which have lead to amino acid changes. They have more changes at this point in the pandemic than we would expect based on the background rate of evolution.”

De Gascun said that in a laboratory setting, the mutations in the ‘Indian variant’ were shown to possibly have an impact on ‘monoclonal antibodies’, but not in a real-world setting. 

‘Monoclonal antibodies’ target a single site on the spike protein of the virus, while a ‘polyclonal antibodies’ – which come from natural immunity or vaccination – and targets lots of different areas on the spike protein of a virus.

Just because something is theoretically possible in the laboratory setting doesn’t necessarily mean it will have an impact on vaccine response or vaccine effectiveness in the real-world setting. Purely because we’re also looking at the second component of the immune response which is cellular immunity – and that seems to be pretty much unaffected from most of the variants from what we have seen to date.

“In the real world we have no evidence that they have an impact on vaccine escape,” he said. “We don’t have an y data at this stage that it’s more transmissible or likely to cause more severe disease.”

“At this stage it’s important we remain vigilant… but we still need more information and more evidence before it becomes a variant of concern.”

Concerns about the variant

Concern about variants of the disease – and whether existing vaccines will prove effective – has led to the British government ramping up plans for a campaign of booster shots later this year.

Hancock told MPs: “We’ve recently seen a new variant first identified in India. We’ve now detected 103 cases of this variant, of which again the vast majority have links to international travel and have been picked up by our testing at the border.”

Hancock said the samples have been analysed to see if the new variant has any “concerning characteristics” such as greater transmissibility or resistance to treatments and vaccines.

He added: “After studying the data, and on a precautionary basis, we’ve made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the red list.”

Johnosn had been due to travel to India yesterday on a trip which had already been dramatically scaled back due to the pandemic.

With reporting from the Press Association and Tadgh McNally

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