Coronavirus UK: Indian variant now dominant, Matt Hancock says

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today that between half and three quarters of all Covid cases in the UK are now being caused by the Indian variant

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today that between half and three quarters of all Covid cases in the UK are now being caused by the Indian variant

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said today that between half and three quarters of all Covid cases in the UK are now being caused by the Indian variant

The Indian Covid variant now makes up between half and three quarters of all cases in the UK, Matt Hancock said today.

The Health Secretary said in a Downing Street press conference that the fast-spreading strain is now dominant in Britain, taking over from the Kent variant that had been the most common one since Christmas.

He said the new variant was ‘still spreading and the latest estimates are that more than half and potentially as many as three quarters of all new cases are now of this variant’.

An update from Public Health England showed there have been 6,959 cases of the strain confirmed so far, almost doubling from 3,535 this time last week. It has now been found in 252 local authorities in England out of around 300, showing it has reached most corners of the country. 

Dr Jenny Harries, chief of the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘In most areas in England we do know that the new variant, the variant that originated in India, is taking the place of the 117 variant, so it’s something we need to watch really carefully.’

The surging numbers of cases have cast doubt over whether the June 21 end of lockdown will be able to go ahead as planned.  

Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted today that No10 may have to wait for more data before pressing ahead with the easing of the final set of lockdown restrictions, while the Health Secretary told MPs it was still ‘too early’ to say if the roadmap needed to be slowed down in the face of the mutant strain.

SAGE adviser Professor Neil Ferguson, aka ‘Professor Lockdown’, said the roadmap now hangs ‘in the balance’ and his colleague Professor John Edmunds said he wouldn’t go ahead with June 21 because it is ‘a little bit too risky’. 

Health chiefs today recorded 3,542 positive coronavirus tests — the highest figure since April 12 and up by 23.2 per cent on last Thursday’s count. It is the second day running cases have risen by a fifth compared to the week before but Dr Harries said it may be caused in part by surge testing in variant hotspots.

Public Health England also added another new variant to its list of ‘under investigation’ strains. 109 cases of a variant dubbed C.63.3 and first seen in Egyptian travellers in Thailand have been spotted in the UK. PHE said there is ‘currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective’. It said it was doing more tests to find out more about the strain.








A weekly update from Public Health England showed tonight that Bolton in Greater Manchester remains the Indian variant hotspot by a long stretch, with 1,354 cases found there.

Second on the list was Bedford with almost 1,000 fewer than the top spot, at 366. Blackburn, Leicester, Sefton in Merseyside, Wigan, Central Bedfordshire, Manchester and Hillingdon in London have all had more than 100 cases.

While there are dozens of other places where the variant has been seen, almost half have had fewer than five positive tests each and the vast majority have had fewer than 10. 

Mr Hancock said: ‘The latest estimates are that more than half and potentially as many as three-quarters of all new cases are now of this variant.

‘As we set out our road map we always expected cases to rise, we must remain vigilant.

BOLTON HOSPITAL CHIEF PRAISES VACCINES

Matt Hancock today said vaccines were helping to protect the NHS in Bolton where cases have surged in recent weeks.

In the Downing Street briefing he said the link between the number of cases and the number of hospital admissions remains the critical point, pointing out that only five out of 49 patients were people who had been fully vaccinated – the others were not totally covered.

Mr Hancock said: ‘Earlier today I spoke to Fiona Noden, the chief executive of Bolton Hospital, and her message is very clear. The hospital is functioning well and it is open to all those who need it, but people need to be careful and cautious and follow the rules and take personal responsibility to help to slow the spread. 

‘She also said, and I quote: “I dread to think where we’d be without the vaccine, so please ask people to come forward and get the jab”. 

‘So when you get the call get the jab and make sure you come forward for your second dose so you can get the maximum possible protection.’ 

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‘The aim, of course, is to break the link to hospitalisations and deaths so that cases alone no longer require stringent restrictions on people’s lives.’

He added: ‘The increase in cases remains focused in hotspots and we are doing all we can to tackle this variant wherever it flares up.

‘Over the past six months we now have built a huge testing capacity at our disposal and we are using this to surge testing into the eight hotspot areas and other places where the cases are lower but rising.

‘In the hotspot areas we are surging vaccines, too, for those who are eligible, in Bolton for instance we have done 17,147 vaccinations in the last week.’

Although there are concerns about the variant in Whitehall – Public Health England and SAGE are now convinced it is more infectious than the Kent strain – vaccines appear to be working well against it.

Mr Hancock said that, of 49 people in hospital with the virus in Bolton, only five had been fully vaccinated. Mathematicians said this could mean the jabs are still over 90 per cent effective against the mutated virus.      

The PHE report showed that only two people are confirmed to have died with the Indian variant after having had both of their vaccine doses. Only 177 cases out of 5,599 since February 1 were among fully vaccinated people, and only one of them was admitted to hospital. 

Dr Harries said in a statement: ‘We now know that getting both vaccine doses gives a high degree of protection against this variant and we urge everyone to have the vaccine when the NHS invites you.’ 

PHE’s report showed that, although B1617.2 had only made up around 2.5 per cent of all cases since October, since February it appeared to account for 84 per cent. 

Its report said: ‘Whilst case numbers remain very low, the proportion of cases which are VOC-21APR-02 (B.1.617.2) has continued to increase… VOC-21APR-02 is likely to be the predominant variant in England although there is regional heterogeneity [differences].’ 

Mobile testing units have been sent to areas with large numbers of cases and an extra 400,000 swab test kits have been sent to the worst-hit places, with the Army dishing them out on the streets in Bolton.

Boss at the NHS Providers union, Saffron Cordery, said the new figures were ‘deeply concerning’ and added: ‘Data on hospital cases seems to be focused amongst those patients who either haven’t been vaccinated yet or had just one vaccine. 

‘This hammers home just how important it is get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. We urge everyone to get their jabs when they’re offered them.’

Public Health England's report shows that cases of the Indian variant were originally mostly in London but then a huge spike in the North West followed, with it now present in every region of the country

Public Health England's report shows that cases of the Indian variant were originally mostly in London but then a huge spike in the North West followed, with it now present in every region of the country

Public Health England’s report shows that cases of the Indian variant were originally mostly in London but then a huge spike in the North West followed, with it now present in every region of the country

The report shows that the Indian variant, VOC-21APR-02 (pink) now makes up the majority of coronavirus cases in England

The report shows that the Indian variant, VOC-21APR-02 (pink) now makes up the majority of coronavirus cases in England

The report shows that the Indian variant, VOC-21APR-02 (pink) now makes up the majority of coronavirus cases in England

More promising data from PHE show that the effects of the variant on vaccinated people are significantly less ¿ out of 5,599 cases only 177 were found to be in people who had had both doses, and only one out of 43 hospital admissions was. Infections, hospitalisations and deaths were all significantly more common in unvaccinated people

More promising data from PHE show that the effects of the variant on vaccinated people are significantly less ¿ out of 5,599 cases only 177 were found to be in people who had had both doses, and only one out of 43 hospital admissions was. Infections, hospitalisations and deaths were all significantly more common in unvaccinated people

More promising data from PHE show that the effects of the variant on vaccinated people are significantly less – out of 5,599 cases only 177 were found to be in people who had had both doses, and only one out of 43 hospital admissions was. Infections, hospitalisations and deaths were all significantly more common in unvaccinated people

Fears about the variant taking over and making vaccines less effective have led No10 to admit they could have to postpone the end of lockdown, scheduled for June 21. 

Boris Johnson said he would have to wait and see how the data develop as time goes on since the reopening of pubs and relaxation of limits on indoor socialising earlier this month.

The PM has refused to rule out imposing local lockdowns to tackle the spread of the variant, or delaying the end of national restrictions.

Professor Neil Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that scientists were still ‘working to assess how much more transmissible it is’.

But he said: ‘It has gone from being a small minority to a majority variant and that’s clearly of concern.

‘We know it partially evades the immunity generated by vaccines. Thankfully if people have had two doses there’s still a large amount of immunity remaining, but it’s not quite as much as before.

‘Step four is rather in the balance, the data collected in the next two or three weeks will be critical.’   

He added: ‘The key issue on whether we can go forward is will the surge caused by the Indian variant – and we do think there will be a surge – be more than has been already planned in to the relaxation measures.

‘It was always expected that relaxation would lead to a surge in infections and to some extent a small third wave of transmission, that’s inevitable if you allow contact rates in the population to go up, even despite immunity. It’s just we can’t cope with that being too large.’ 

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And Public Health England analysis released today showed cases have ticked up in every region except the East Midlands. Infections rate jumped in 79 of England’s upper-tier authorities in the week ending May 23 — doubling in four parts of the country: Darlington, Wokingham, Oldham and Blackburn with Darwen















And Professor Edmunds, also a SAGE member and expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told ITV last night: ‘You know, the Indian variant is taking off in a number of places — not everywhere, but a number of places.

‘Luckily we’ve still got low levels, but it is concerning. And we are still not back to normal. We measure people’s contact patterns and we’re still at less than half of our normal contact patterns at the moment. So I think that is helping to keep the lid on it, to some extent.’

NHS bosses have said the next seven days will be ‘crucial’ in assessing whether Covid jabs work.

Though increasing cases are usually followed by rises in hospitalisations and deaths, officials say jabs have broken that once impenetrable link. 

Cases are only clearly rising in THREE of England’s eight Indian variant hotspots, data shows 

Covid cases are only clearly rising in three of England’s Indian variant hotspots, official statistics show amid warnings that people aged under 21 may be more likely to catch the mutant strain.

Blackburn with Darwen, Kirklees and Bedford are the only areas of the eight identified by ministers as being to have seen an obvious rise in infections. 

Burnley has seen a fall in the average number of positive tests being spotted each day, based on the most recent data on the Department of Health’s coronavirus dashboard. Outbreaks appear flat in the other four areas: Bolton, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside.

And the number of beds occupied by Covid patients has remained in single figures for all but one of the areas — Bolton, which saw a fall from 44 to 41 beds on Tuesday. Just one person was in hospital with Covid in the hospital trust covering North Tyneside at the most recent date.

But hospitalisation data is much harder to untangle because some NHS trusts care for larger areas, with multiple hospitals under their jurisdiction. For example, East Lancashire Trust includes hospitals in Burnley and Blackburn, providing one piece of data for both hotspots. 

Experts say admissions in Bolton are currently lower than they would have predicted based on case numbers a fortnight ago, even though rates have crept up over the past month.

Professor Christina Pagel, a member of Independent SAGE, hailed the most recent case numbers as ‘good news’, despite previously saying ministers may need to delay the last stage of lockdown easing on May 17 due to the rapid spread of the Indian variant.

She tweeted: ‘So some good news: cases in some of the new variant hotspots are now coming down — especially in Bolton.’ 

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But Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said trusts ‘will be monitoring the data closely’ to ensure the Indian variant hasn’t scuppered the roll-out. 

Hospital admissions jumped by around 11 per cent compared with the previous seven days, according to official statistics.  

Mr Hopson said hospitals in Indian variant hotspots in England were seeing cases rise steadily but they were not increasing ‘at an alarming rate’, and he said: ‘The next seven days will be crucial, and trusts will be monitoring the data closely.’

He added that hospital admissions appeared to be of patients who had not been vaccinated, explaining: ‘This hammers home just how important it is to have a vaccination’.  

Britain’s mammoth vaccine drive has continued at full steam ahead amid the threat of the Indian variant.

Another 387,987 top-up jabs were dished out across the country on Tuesday — taking the UK’s number of fully vaccinated adults to more than 23.6 million. 

Another 186,147 first doses were also administered, with 38.4 million adults — or 72.9 per cent — having had at least one jab. 

England’s roll-out was yesterday expanded to 30 and 31-year-olds. Northern Ireland today began offering jabs to all over-18s. Wales and Scotland have both already started to invite the youngest cohort.

Observing the rise in cases, Professor Ferguson said the increase had been anticipated.

Though he suggested restrictions could be extended beyond June 21, he also reassured that the country’s jabs roll-out meant the UK is in a ‘much better place’ than during the second wave in December.

The professor also suggested the country could cope if the Indian variant was proven to only be 20 to 30 per cent more transmissible — which SAGE scientists have argued is feasible.  

Government advisers sounded the alarm about the Indian variant last month before it became the UK’s dominant strain, saying it may be up to 50 per cent more infectious than the Kent variant.

But scientists have since offered more optimism, believing the true figure to be around half of the initial estimate. Rigorous analysis has also shown vaccines still work against the strain. 

Despite fears the rapid spread of the Indian variant could threaten plans to ease lockdown restrictions next month, Britain’s coronavirus outbreak may not be spiralling out of control.

The number of people falling ill with symptoms of coronavirus has fallen by up to 10 per cent over the last week, according to a symptom-tracking app.

Academics at King’s College London and health-tech firm ZOE estimate that 2,550 Britons — and 1,919 people in England — were becoming ill every day on May 23. For comparison, figures a week before stood at 2,750 and 2,132, respectively.

Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist behind the app, said national figures ‘remain unaffected’, despite numerous measures saying that the outbreak is starting to get bigger with the quick growth of the B.1.617.2 strain.

WHERE HAS THE INDIAN VARIANT B.1.617.2 BEEN FOUND IN ENGLAND? (PHE weekly update for May 27) 
Area name Cases Area name Cases Area name Cases Area name Cases Area name Cases
Bolton 1,354 Pendle 24 Sutton 9 Barnsley <5 Ipswich <5
Bedford 366 Stockport 24 Tonbridge and Malling 9 Breckland <5 Isle of Wight <5
Blackburn with Darwen 361 Watford 24 Wandsworth 9 Colchester <5 King’s Lynn and West Norfolk <5
Leicester 197 Camden 23 Wirral 9 East Hertfordshire <5 Lincoln <5
Sefton 175 East Northamptonshire 23 County Durham 8 East Staffordshire <5 Mid Sussex <5
Nottingham 158 Liverpool 23 Maidstone 8 Epsom and Ewell <5 North Somerset <5
Wigan 113 Slough 23 Reigate and Banstead 8 Exeter <5 North West Leicestershire <5
Central Bedfordshire 109 Wolverhampton 23 Ribble Valley 8 Halton <5 Redditch <5
Manchester 105 Hart 21 Stevenage 8 Lichfield <5 South Tyneside <5
Hillingdon 102 Dudley 20 Vale of White Horse 8 North Hertfordshire <5 Stoke-on-Trent <5
Brent 83 Walsall 20 Wakefield 8 Norwich <5 Stroud <5
Ealing 83 Hackney 19 West Oxfordshire 8 Selby <5 Surrey Heath <5
Hounslow 80 North Lincolnshire 19 Brighton and Hove 7 South Bucks <5 Tandridge <5
Croydon 76 Barking and Dagenham 18 Gateshead 7 South Cambridgeshire <5 Waverley <5
Birmingham 68 Newcastle upon Tyne 18 Merton 7 South Norfolk <5 Winchester <5
Harrow 66 Leeds 17 Peterborough 7 Swale <5 Allerdale <5
Greenwich 64 Mid Suffolk 17 Richmond upon Thames 7 Tamworth <5 Basingstoke and Deane <5
Kirklees 63 Rushmoor 17 Rugby 7 Uttlesford <5 Carlisle <5
Bromley 59 South Gloucestershire 17 Sevenoaks 7 Warrington <5 Cheltenham <5
North Tyneside 58 Southwark 17 Stafford 7 West Suffolk <5 Cherwell <5
Chorley 53 Bradford 16 Ashford 6 Ashfield <5 Corby <5
Luton 52 Hyndburn 16 Blaby 6 Bath and North East Somerset <5 Cornwall <5
Newham 48 Lewisham 16 Broxbourne 6 Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole <5 Daventry <5
Rochdale 46 St. Helens 16 Eastleigh 6 Chiltern <5 Derbyshire Dales <5
Unknown 46 Aylesbury Vale 15 Fylde 6 Crawley <5 Folkestone and Hythe <5
Bury 45 Wokingham 15 Hertsmere 6 Darlington <5 Guildford <5
South Northamptonshire 45 Wyre 15 Oadby and Wigston 6 Epping Forest <5 Hinckley and Bosworth <5
Burnley 43 Cheshire East 14 Oxford 6 Fareham <5 Horsham <5
Preston 43 Hammersmith and Fulham 14 Rushcliffe 6 Gloucester <5 Kettering <5
Coventry 38 Nuneaton and Bedworth 14 Test Valley 6 Gravesham <5 Lancaster <5
Milton Keynes 38 Oldham 14 Woking 6 Harlow <5 Maldon <5
Tower Hamlets 38 Wiltshire 14 Basildon 5 Knowsley <5 Malvern Hills <5
Barnet 35 Bassetlaw 13 Blackpool 5 Mansfield <5 Medway <5
Trafford 35 Dartford 13 Bracknell Forest 5 Redcar and Cleveland <5 Middlesbrough <5
Enfield 33 South Ribble 13 Brentwood 5 Somerset West and Taunton <5 New Forest <5
Lambeth 33 Waltham Forest 13 Calderdale 5 South Lakeland <5 Newcastle-under-Lyme <5
Haringey 32 Charnwood 12 Cheshire West and Chester 5 Southend-on-Sea <5 North East Lincolnshire <5
Salford 32 Three Rivers 12 Derby 5 St Albans <5 North Kesteven <5
Sandwell 32 Cambridge 11 Huntingdonshire 5 Stockton-on-Tees <5 North Warwickshire <5
Reading 31 West Lancashire 11 Kingston upon Hull, City of 5 Sunderland <5 Plymouth <5
Redbridge 31 Doncaster 10 Kingston upon Thames 5 Thanet <5 Rotherham <5
Canterbury 30 Herefordshire, County of 10 Northumberland 5 West Berkshire <5 Shropshire <5
Tameside 30 Islington 10 Sheffield 5 West Lindsey <5 South Derbyshire <5
Bristol, City of 28 Kensington and Chelsea 10 South Oxfordshire 5 Worcester <5 South Holland <5
Gedling 28 Rossendale 10 Spelthorne 5 Bromsgrove <5 South Staffordshire <5
Swindon 28 Solihull 10 Telford and Wrekin 5 Dover <5 Tendring <5
Bexley 27 Southampton 10 Tunbridge Wells 5 East Riding of Yorkshire <5 Thurrock <5
Broxtowe 27 Welwyn Hatfield 10 Warwick 5 Elmbridge <5 Torbay <5
High Peak 26 Dacorum 9 Windsor and Maidenhead 5 Erewash <5 Wychavon <5
Westminster 26 Havering 9 Wycombe 5 Harrogate <5 York <5
Chelmsford 24 Northampton 9

He claimed cases appeared to be spiking in hotspots including Bolton, Kirklees and Leicester but added: ‘Reassuringly, we aren’t seeing numbers rise in other surrounding areas.’

But the picture on the Covid outbreak in England, as well as Britain, remains a mixed bag.

Daily positive tests in the UK yesterday breached the 3,000 mark for the first time since April, and other surveillance studies have warned that cases are starting to rise across the nation.

Separate Test and Trace figures today showed the number of positive swabs across England fell slightly last week, with 14,051 recorded in the seven days to May 19 — down from 14,082 in the previous spell. 

However, this was fuelled by a drop in the number of NHS workers and seriously ill patients testing positive.

There was a small rise in cases among the general public (from 12,381 to 12,561), even though 40,000 fewer tests being carried out across England.

Swab positivity rates rose in around a third of the 300-plus authorities dotted across the country but fell in Bolton — Britain’s worst-hit borough, where the Indian variant is known to be rife. 

And Public Health England analysis released today showed cases have ticked up in every region except the East Midlands.

Infections rate jumped in 79 of England’s upper-tier authorities in the week ending May 23 — doubling in four parts of the country: Darlington, Wokingham, Oldham and Blackburn with Darwen. Outbreaks remained flat in 10 areas.

But the PHE data is based on positive tests and looks at data recorded each week, meaning it doesn’t take into account trends that can change day-by-day. Figures can also go up if more tests are carried out.

Dr Doyle said: ‘Covid infection rates have risen across most age groups and regions, but encouragingly the number in hospitals across the country remains low. 

‘However, we are concerned about the outbreak of the variant first discovered in India and in some areas hospitalisations have slightly risen. This is a reminder that we still have a way to go and need to remain cautious.

‘The best way to protect yourself and others is by getting the vaccine as soon as you are eligible.

‘You must have both doses to get the maximum protection against all the variants and even after the jabs you need to practise “hands, face, space, fresh air” to help keep everyone safe.’

For comparison, the King’s College London symptom-tracking app looks at people who become ill. Around a third of infected patients never develop any of the tell-tale warning signs.

Separate data analysed by MailOnline today, from the Department of Health, show that cases may be flat in four of eight Indian variant hotspots: Bolton, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside.

Blackburn with Darwen, Kirklees and Bedford are the only areas of the eight where the disease is rife to have seen an obvious rise in infections.

Burnley has seen a fall in the average number of positive tests being spotted each day, based on the most recent data on the Department of Health’s coronavirus dashboard.

But those figures are based on daily cases, which can be skewed easily and are not as reliable. However, scientists still trust them. One Independent SAGE member used them to hail the fact that Bolton’s curve appears to have started to flatten.

The gold-standard coronavirus surveillance project, carried out by the Office for National Statistics and relied upon by ministers, last week warned of a rise in cases. It gets updated tomorrow.

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