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Covid-19: Indian variant could become dominant strain in UK 'in next few days'

Early indications are that the variant is even more transmissible than the B117 strain.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock
Image: PA

UK HEALTH EXPERTS have warned that the Covid-19 variant first detected in India could become the dominant strain of the virus there in the coming days.

The Guardian reports that the B1617.2 variant could soon overtake the B117 variant detected in Kent late last year, which itself was more transmissible than earlier forms of Covid-19.

The Kent variant is also the dominant strain in Ireland, after arriving in the country just before Christmas.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons today that the variant has already become the dominant strain in parts of the north west of England.

There are now 2,323 confirmed cases of B1617.2 in the UK – of which 483 were in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, where it is now the dominant strain.

Hancock said vaccinations and testing had been “surged” across Bolton as he announced the jab would be offered to 36 and 37-year-olds from this week.

“The majority have not been vaccinated and, of them, most of them could have been vaccinated, which is frustrating to see, but is also a message to everyone,” Hancock told MPs.

“It just reinforces the message that people should come forward and get vaccinated because that is the best way to protect everybody.”

Informing MPs of the latest scientific assessment on the Indian variant, Hancock also said early evidence suggested the variant was more transmissible than the Kent variant.

He added that it was not yet known how much more transmissible it was.

The Scientific Advisory Group for emergencies (Sage) has said there is a “realistic possibility” that the Indian coronavirus variant could be as much as “50% more transmissible” than the Kent strain.

But, at present, there is no evidence the B1617.2 variant is resistant to current vaccines.

The warning came after Boris Johnson cautioned last week that the spread of the Indian variant could jeopardise plans for the final lifting of lockdown in England.

Downing Street said updates on plans for domestic coronavirus “passports”, announcements on easing social distancing requirements and further guidance on weddings, due later this month, could now be delayed.

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“We need time to assess the latest data on this variant first identified in India so I’m not going to give a set time for doing that,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters today.

It came as restrictions were eased across much of the UK with the return of indoor socialising and the reopening of pubs and restaurants for indoor dining and drinking.

Ministers have however urged people to exercise caution in enjoying their new freedoms amid fears among some scientists about a possible resurgence of the disease.

Data from Public Health England (PHE) published last Thursday showed a steep rise in cases associated with B1617.2, which has been designated as a “variant of concern”.

Contains reporting by Stephen McDermott.

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