TThe Indian variant of Covid is now the ‘dominant strain’ in Britain and cases are expected to turn into a new outbreak of the disease, a leading scientist has said.
Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College London epidemiologist whose work was key to the first lockdown, added that the spread of the B1.617.2 variant meant the final easing of the lockdown on June 21 was still “In the balance”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today show: ‘It is now in well more than the majority of local authority areas of the country and is now the dominant strain, the majority of new cases are of the variant. – it is obviously worrying.
“A month ago, it went from a very small minority to the majority variant.”
Experts are still working to establish how much more transmissible it is than the Kent variant, which was the main strain in the UK until recently.
Professor Ferguson continued, “On top of that we know that it partially evades the immunity generated by the vaccines, luckily if people have been given two doses there is still a large amount of immunity / protection left, but it is not. isn’t as good as it used to be. before.
“I would say step 4 (easing the lockdown) is more in the balance. “
Data collected over the next two to three weeks would be “essential” to show whether this final easing of the lockdown is to continue, with the end of social distancing.
“It’s in the balance. On the positive side, we still have very low infection levels despite this new variant, ”he explained further.
The latest Office for National Statistics survey, he added, suggests that less than 1 in 1,000 people in England are currently infected with the disease, although the level is slightly higher in Scotland.
“The overall number of cases is now increasing in several regions, particularly in the North West of England, but still at a relatively low rate,” Professor Ferguson said.
“The key question of whether we can move forward is the push caused by the Indian variant, and we think there will be a push, will be more than what has already been foreseen in the easing measures.
“Relaxation was always expected to lead to an increase in infections and, to some extent, a small third wave of transmission.
“It’s inevitable if you allow contact rates in the population to increase, even in spite of immunity.
“It’s just that we can’t face the fact that it’s too big.”
However, the government was forced to water it down after a revolt by local public health chiefs after initially urging people to “avoid travel in and out of affected areas unless absolutely possible. , eg for work (if you can’t work). home) or education ”.
It now states that people should as much as possible:
* Minimize movement in and out of affected areas.
* Go outside rather than inside.
* Stand 2 meters away from people you don’t live with (unless you’ve formed a supportive bubble with them), this includes friends and family you don’t live with.
* Get tested for free twice a week and isolate yourself if you are positive.
* Continue to work from home if you can.
* Get vaccinated when offered and encourage others to do so too.
Oddly, the guidelines were slipped onto a government website on Friday, without a major public announcement.
Cabinet Minister Grant Shapps had conceded that government needs to learn from communication lessons about how advice is given.