Fears of Covid third wave as India variant cases more than double in a week

Fears of Covid third wave as India variant cases more than double in a week
Expert warns spread of variant could be beginning of UK’s third wave

Cases of the Indian variant of the coronavirus in England have risen by nearly 50 per cent in three days and more than doubled in a week, new figures show.

Numbers have increased by more than 1,000 since Monday, and by more than 2,000 in the past seven days, according to official figures.

A total of 3,424 cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus B1617.2 – thought to be more transmissible – have now been confirmed in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) said.

Thursdays figure’s represent a rise of 2,111 on the previous week, when there were 1,313 cases, and a rise of 47 per cent since Monday’s 2,323 cases in the UK.

A member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned earlier on Thursday that the UK could be experiencing the start of a third wave of the pandemic.

The vast majority of the India variant cases are in England, where 3,245 cases have been confirmed, with 136 in Scotland, 28 in Wales and 15 in Northern Ireland.

While most cases were concentrated in the northwest, particularly Bolton, and in London, but PHE said it was now seeing “clusters of cases” across the country.

Meera Chand, the Covid-19 PHE’s incident director, said it was essential people in the worst affected areas who had yet to receive their second dose of the vaccine came forward as soon as it was offered.

“This is vitally important in the light of our current assessment that (B1617.2) has grown rapidly in England and may be highly transmissible,” she said.

Andrew Hayward, an infectious diseases expert at University College London and a Sage member, said he was very concerned about the rise of the Indian variant and new measures could be required to bring it under control.

The variant has spread very effectively within households and into the broader community, and is likely to spread to other parts of the country, which will cement its status as the country’s dominant strain, he said.

He predicted it would become apparent over the next one to two weeks whether localised outbreaks would become more widespread.

“Obviously we’re doing everything we can to contain the spread of that, but it’s likely that more generalised measures may start to be needed to control it,” he told the BBC.

“So whilst I think we’ve always thought that we would have another wave of Covid, the size of that wave is going to very much depend on how transmissible the variant that causes it is and what proportion of the population have been vaccinated when it hits.

“Fortunately, we’ve had a good proportion of the population vaccinated, but there’s still people who aren’t vaccinated in high-risk groups, the vaccine isn’t 100 per cent effective, and also even in the younger groups, if you get many, many thousands or hundreds of thousands of cases, then you will expect a lot of hospitalisations and deaths to result from that.”

Last week England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned the Indian variant would come to “dominate” coronavirus cases in the UK.

Other experts said this week that could happen within days. The variant has already been found in at least 15 areas of England.

But the prime minister’s official spokesman said the daily case rates had not shown any “sharp increases or significant areas of concern”.

A leaked document has suggested the rapid spread of the strain was at least partially down to failures at NHS Test and Trace.

The report, seen by the BBC, said for three weeks in April and May, eight local authorities in England did not have access to the full data on positive tests in their area, meaning more than 700 cases were not reported and traced locally.

Downing Street said only a small number of authorities had been involved and that the issue had been quickly resolved.

However, Labour said it showed the government was continuing to make the same mistakes in its handling of the pandemic.

The document said the rapid spread of Indian variant cases may also be “partially or largely attributable to risks in the international travel control system”.