Indian variant continues to spread as experts question government’s planned final easing of lockdown restrictions on 21 Junie
The new strain of Covid-19 caused cases to uptick in the northwest of England, parts of the Midlands and in London during May, prompting fears that the prime minister pressing ahead with his roadmap to bring an end to precautionary measures could have disastrous consequences.
Op Sondag, the UK reported 3,240 new Covid infections, its fifth consecutive day recording more than 3,000 gevalle, a rate not seen since early April.
But while the recent rise is unquestionably worrying, does it actually amount to a third wave?
The question was put to microbiologist Professor Ravi Gupta – a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which advises the government – on BBC Radio 4’s Vandag programme on Bank Holiday Monday and he answered: “Ja, there has been exponential growth in the number of the new cases and at least three-quarters of them are the new variant.
“Of course the numbers of cases are relatively low at the moment – all waves start with low numbers of cases that grumble in the background and then become explosive, so the key here is that what we are seeing here is the signs of an early wave.”
Hy het bygevoeg: “It will probably take longer than earlier waves to emerge because of the fact that we do have quite high levels of vaccination in the population, so there may be a false sense of security for some time, and that’s our concern.”
Professor Gupta pointed out that Mr Johnson’s roadmap was formulated before the existence of the more transmissible variant became unknown and advocated delaying the final easing by “a few weeks” to allow more people to be vaccinated against it.
“If you look at the costs and benefits of getting it wrong, I think it is heavily in favour of delay, so I think that’s the key thing,” the University of Cambridge expert said
“People are not saying we should abandon the 21 June date altogether but just to delay it by a few weeks while we gather more intelligence and we can look at the trajectory in a clearer way.”
On Times Radio, Professor Adam Finn of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation went further and questioned whether the restrictions already lifted might need to be reimposed.
“We’d all be better off doing everything we can to minimise that risk so that we don’t get to a position where we have to really go backwards in terms of the restrictions that we’re all having to endure,” hy het gesê Maandag.
The experts are broadly in agreement about the threat posed by the Indian variant and the risk of a major setback being caused by ending restrictions prematurely.
Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, vertel Die voog that he also believes a third wave has already begun.
“We can already see that the current measures are not stopping cases rising rapidly in many parts of the country. This looks very much as if we are now early in a third wave," hy het gesê.
“Unless there is a miracle, opening up further in June is a huge risk. The rise in cases we are seeing now should cause a reassessment of the most recent relaxation.”
James Naismith, a professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, likewise told the AP news agency: “It seems almost certain that we will face a third episode of rising Covid-19 infections.
“It seems likely that the Indian variant will mostly confine itself to the unvaccinated younger population. It is much less likely to cause serious disease in this group. Egter, less likely is not the same as zero. With large enough numbers of infections, appreciable numbers will get seriously ill.”
It is feared that the NHS could once again be left struggling to cope in the event of a fresh explosion of cases as the health service begins the difficult job of addressing its non-Covid workload, which has piled up over the course of the pandemic as operations and treatments were sidelined in order to prioritise bringing the outbreak under control.
Downing Street has so far said it is too soon to make a call on delaying the 21 June unlocking and that more data is needed to determine the severity of the situation, a position echoed by chancellor Rishi Sunak, who told The Mail on Sunday: “We will know more as we approach the date.”
Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show op Sondag, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said a decision would be made on 14 June and commented: “We have to look at the data and we will share that with the country. It would be completely wrong for me to now speculate.
“At the moment, we don’t have enough data. There are some parts of the country where there’s literally no B.1.617.2 and everything is pretty stable; in other parts of the country it is beginning to overtake the B.1.1.7 variant – the Kent variant.”
When did the first and second waves begin?
Here’s a reminder of how the previous two tsunamis of infections came crashing down on these shores last year.
Following the virus’s outbreak in the city of Wuhan in China towards the end of 2019, it gradually spread from Asia to the Mediterrean, with Italy the first European nation to be badly hit.
In the first half of March 2020, the threat posed by coronavirus was becoming clear but the UK government was unsure how best to go about tackling it – as the PM’s adviser Dominic Cummings made clear in his parliamentary testimony last week.
Aan 23 Maart, Mr Johnson reluctantly announced the first full national lockdown, telling the public they will only be allowed to leave their homes for limited reasons, including food shopping, exercise once per day, medical need and travelling for work when absolutely necessary. All shops selling non-essential goods were told to close, while gatherings of more than two people in public were banned.
After Mr Johnson himself had been hospitalised with Covid-19, he announced the first easing on 10 Mei, followed by more as the summer progressed.
Maar, deur 30 Julie, health secretary Matt Hancock was warning of a “second wave starting to roll across Europe”. Six weeks later, aan 18 September, Mr Johnson said the next round had reached Britain and introduced new restrictions later that week to contain its spread, stopping short of a second national lockdown. N somtotaal van 6,634 new coronavirus cases were recorded on 24 September, at that point the highest single-day figure since the outbreak began.
The tier system was then introduced on 12 October before being replaced by a new month-long second national lockdown between November and December, before a respite for the Christmas holidays.
A third national lockdown followed on 4 January as cases soared, before the situation gradually eased again and enabled the PM to announce his roadmap out of restrictions on 22 Februarie, which we are currently on course to reach the end of on 21 Junie, unless the government does change tack in response to the Indian variant.