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The UK detects rapid spread of the Covid variant ‘B.1.617’ which first appeared in India last October and is believed to be responsible for a wave of infections that has engulfed the South Asian nation these last months.
B.1.617 has three sublines, each with slightly different mutations, the World Health Organization said. The B.1.617 variant was labeled a ‘variant of concern’ by the WHO last week and on May 7, the UK dubbed the B.1.617.2 subline as a variant of concern. Since then, the UK has seen almost double the cases caused by the variant.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told UK lawmakers on Monday there were 2,323 cases of the variant known as B.1.617.2 now confirmed in the UK, up from 1,313 last Thursday. He said 483 of those cases had been detected in coronavirus outbreaks in the northern England towns of Bolton and Blackburn where, he said, it had become the dominant strain with cases there being doubled last week and “increasing in all age groups” – although hospitalizations are stable. There are now 86 local authorities with five or more confirmed cases, Hancock added.
The UK has introduced ‘surge vaccinations’ in the most severely affected areas with the aim of protecting as many people as possible from the virus and its variant, which early evidence shows is more transmissible.
Early data shows that the Covid vaccines currently in use are still effective against the new variant, a government official said on Monday, although there is now a race to vaccinate younger age groups and anyone who has not. accepted the vaccine before.
The government is already concerned that the UK’s target date for ending all restrictions on social contact of June 21 may need to be reconsidered given the spread of the new variant.
Experts are sounding the alarm that it is likely that the variant is already rooted. Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the Guardian newspaper on Monday that the Indian variant could overtake a more transmissible Covid variant (known as B.1.1.7.) which appeared in the UK last fall and has become a dominant strain in the country and other parts of the world.
“There is no evidence that the recent rapid increase in B.1.617.2 variant cases shows signs of slowing down,” he told the newspaper. “This variant will overtake (the Kent variant) and become the dominant variant in the UK in the coming days, if it hasn’t already. “
How bad is it?
WHO said the India variant has been detected in European countries. As of May 11, the B.1.617 variant had been detected in 44 countries across the six WHO regions, the organization said in its latest weekly update.
Commenting in the British Medical Journal on Monday, a panel of experts noted that “there is a lot we know and a lot we don’t know about the B.1.617.2 variant” but that “we do. know enough to say that this new variant could be extremely serious. “
‘We know it is spreading rapidly (around doubling every week in the UK and almost tripling last week from 520 to 1,313 cases), that it is becoming established in a number of areas across the country. countries, ”wrote Dr Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews and Dr Susan Michie and Dr Christina Pagel of University College London who are experts in advisory groups (SAGE and Independent SAGE) that provide scientific advice to the government.
“Compared to the dominant variant B.1.1.7, we know that B.1.617.2 is very likely to be more transmissible and that it might be better able to be transmitted between people who have been fully vaccinated”, have- they added.
“We do not yet know to what extent the faster transmission is due to the characteristics of the variant itself as opposed to the characteristics of those who are infected and … we do not yet know if and to what extent the new variant undermines the capacity. vaccines to protect us from infection, hospitalization and death or to prevent us from passing infection on to others, ”they added.
They noted that SAGE’s ‘worst case’ modeling suggests that if B.1.617.2 was 40-50% more transmissible than variant B.1.1.7, it could lead to an increase in hospitalizations worse than in January. 2021 ”and if more vaccines also leak, the level could be considerably higher. “
Currently, however, they have warned that “we don’t know enough to be sure exactly how serious the problem is if it becomes the dominant variant in the UK”.