Indian variant of Covid-19 - what do we know so far?
- Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
Scientists are keeping a close eye on the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19 across the UK after Public Health England described it as a "variant of concern."
Public health bosses revealed that a "very small" number of coronavirus cases in Norfolk have been caused by the Indian variant of Covid-19.
What do we know about the variant and how concerned should we be?
B16172, which was first identified in India, and 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.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a member of Nervtag (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) 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.
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He said it seems to be slightly more transmissible and capable of outcompeting the UK variant or South African variant to become the dominant variant in the UK, and that the "risk is of a greater number of mild infections rather than an increased proportion of mild infections turning into serious ones".
Professor Dingwall said: "We need to stop panicking about every new variant that comes along."
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He said data from India shows that people who have been fully vaccinated, like healthcare workers, are not developing infections.
What have government ministers said?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "anxious" about the variant and was not ruling out regional restrictions.
He said: "At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen.
"There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out."
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said that Monday's easing of restrictions will still go-ahead despite concerns around the variant.
He said: "We think that the roadmap for Monday remains in place, because the vaccines are delivering, and vaccines are keeping people out of hospital and, of course, away from severe infection."
He added that the Government was "confident" this could continue but said officials would "continue to monitor" the situation.
What's the view of Norfolk experts?
Leading viral disease expert professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia's Norwich Medical School, said the Indian variant of the virus has caused big concerns over whether June 21 is still achievable as the final step of the government's roadmap.
He said: ""Modellers within SAGE [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] do not think we will be able to make the final step out of lockdown in June at the moment and I would not argue against that."
He added that cases for the variant are "doubling every week to 10 days" across the UK despite restrictions that are in place.
And Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, confirmed there had been a small number of cases in Norfolk and that she was working closely with PHE to monitor the situation closely.
What impact is the variant having across the country?
Data from PHE shows a rise in cases from 520 to 1,313 this week in the UK.
In Bolton, which has one of the highest case rates of the variant in the country, mobile testing units have been deployed and door-to-door PCR Covid testing has been offered to 22,000 residents.
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.
Surge testing has been deployed in Sefton, Merseyside, after cases of the Indian variant were confirmed in the Formby area, with anyone over 16 who lives, works or studies in the area urged to take a PCR test.
What impact has it had in India?
On Thursday, India recorded 4,120 deaths and 362,727 new Covid-19 infections over the last 24 hours.