Covid-19: ‘Further action’ may be needed as Indian variant spreads in UK

Local lockdowns mooted as number of cases of strain rises from 520 to 1,313 in a week

Although the Indian Covid-19 variant is thought to be highly transmissible, vaccines are expected to be effective against it. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.

Although the Indian Covid-19 variant is thought to be highly transmissible, vaccines are expected to be effective against it. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images.

 

British ministers are poised to order further action in response to the spread of the Indian Covid-19 variant of concern after the number of cases detected more than doubled in a week.

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

One response being considered is bringing forward the date for a second dose of vaccine for eligible groups to increase protection.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the situation was being monitored carefully and the government “will not hesitate to take further action if necessary”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has not ruled out local lockdowns being necessary to contain the spread of the virus.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director at PHE, said: “We need to act collectively and responsibly to ensure that variants do not impact on the progress we have all made to drive down levels of Covid-19 and the increased freedom that brings.”

Door-to-door testing

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.

Meanwhile, surge testing has been deployed in 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. Measures have also been brought in elsewhere, including in parts of London.

Mr Hancock said: “We are monitoring the situation very carefully and will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.

“It is imperative we all continue to be vigilant, and if you live in one of the 15 areas where we’ve introduced surge testing, make sure you get a free PCR test.

“And everyone who’s eligible needs to come forward and get a jab.”

Anxious

Mr Johnson said the government was “anxious” about the variant and “there is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out”.

Despite the spread of the Indian variant, Mr Johnson said there was “nothing that dissuades me” from easing England’s lockdown on Monday or the further steps towards normality on June 21st.

But he added “there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get”.

Local lockdowns are only expected to be used if evidence suggests they are necessary to contain or suppress a variant which escapes the vaccine.

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