Pfizer vaccine ‘works less well against Indian variant’

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson warned today the Indian ‘Delta’ variant could be 100 per cent more infectious than the Kent one as official data showed it’s also twice as likely to put unvaccinated patients in hospital. 

The senior SAGE modeller — dubbed Professor Lockdown for his terrifying death predictions that prompted the first shutdown last March — warned the emerging evidence about the variant was not positive ‘in any respect’. 

He said the mutant Covid strain was between 30 and 100 per cent more virulent than the previously dominant Kent variant and that ‘a good central estimate’ would be 60 per cent.

A study published last night also suggested that the Pfizer vaccine works less well at preventing infections of the Indian version, with people given that jab producing fewer antibodies targeting the virus compared to other strains. 

Public Health England for the first time last night confirmed the new variant was dominant in the UK, replacing the Kent version, with cases doubling every nine days. Britain’s daily infections also rose above 5,000 yesterday for the first time since the country was still in lockdown in late March, amid the spread of the highly contagious virus.

Asked about whether the new evidence would put England’s June 21 ‘Freedom Day’ in jeopardy, Professor Ferguson said the data ‘is pointing in a more negative direction than it was last week.’

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It points towards the direction of being cautious. I think balancing, clearly, people’s desire – and there clearly is a built-up desire to get back to normal – against the potential risk is a very difficult judgment call.’ 

But former Tory Chief Whip Mark Harper challenged the Prime Minister to push ahead with the final unlocking to prove Dominic Cummings wrong and show his Government is not an out-of-control ‘shopping trolley’. Mr Harper used the astonishing criticism levelled at Boris Johnson by his former top aide to put pressure on the PM not to delay.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick today repeated that ‘caution’ was needed as the country approaches the crucial June 21 date, but he hinted that the planned unlocking would be watered down rather than scrapped completely.  

Grim models published by SAGE last month found that a variant that is 50 per cent or more transmissible than the Kent strain would overwhelm the NHS, leading to between 10,000 and 20,000 hospital admissions per day by the summer.

The panel also suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent or more transmissible – which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January.

It comes as holidays to Portugal were thrown into chaos after ministers removed the European country from the travel green list amid concerns over the new Nepal coronavirus variant. That strain is believed to be a more evolved version of the Indian one but has a key mutation which may make vaccines less effective. 








This Public Health England graph shows how the number of cases of the Indian variant (dark green line) has exploded since it was first found, spreading faster than any other strain did over the same time after its discovery

This Public Health England graph shows how the number of cases of the Indian variant (dark green line) has exploded since it was first found, spreading faster than any other strain did over the same time after its discovery

This Public Health England graph shows how the number of cases of the Indian variant (dark green line) has exploded since it was first found, spreading faster than any other strain did over the same time after its discovery

Britain’s daily infections also breached 5,000 yesterday for the first time since the country was still in lockdown in late March, with cases of the Indian variant doubling every nine days

Britain’s daily infections also breached 5,000 yesterday for the first time since the country was still in lockdown in late March, with cases of the Indian variant doubling every nine days

Britain’s daily infections also breached 5,000 yesterday for the first time since the country was still in lockdown in late March, with cases of the Indian variant doubling every nine days 

There were also 18 more deaths recorded yesterday, which was up 80 per cent on the 10 the week before, and may have been higher than normal due to a reporting lag over the bank holiday weekend

There were also 18 more deaths recorded yesterday, which was up 80 per cent on the 10 the week before, and may have been higher than normal due to a reporting lag over the bank holiday weekend

There were also 18 more deaths recorded yesterday, which was up 80 per cent on the 10 the week before, and may have been higher than normal due to a reporting lag over the bank holiday weekend

A Warwick University model submitted to SAGE last month warned that a variant 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent version, hospital admissions could surge to 10,000 per day or even double that  (Thick lines indicate the central estimate while the thin lines are possible upper limits known as confidence intervals)

A Warwick University model submitted to SAGE last month warned that a variant 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent version, hospital admissions could surge to 10,000 per day or even double that  (Thick lines indicate the central estimate while the thin lines are possible upper limits known as confidence intervals)

A Warwick University model submitted to SAGE last month warned that a variant 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent version, hospital admissions could surge to 10,000 per day or even double that  (Thick lines indicate the central estimate while the thin lines are possible upper limits known as confidence intervals)

This is how the Indian variant situation looked on May 8, by which time it had become dominant in 23 areas
This is how the Indian variant situation looked on May 22, by which time it had become dominant in 102 areas
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Heat map shows how the percentage of cases being made up by the Indian variant surged between May 8 (left) and May 22 (right). It was the dominant Covid strain in just 23 English local authorities in the first week of May compared to 102 a fortnight later

'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson today warned the Indian variant is between 30 and 100 per cent more transmissible

'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson today warned the Indian variant is between 30 and 100 per cent more transmissible

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson today warned the Indian variant is between 30 and 100 per cent more transmissible

It comes as:

  • Seats on the last flights back to London from the Algarve were on sale for up to £711 today as Portugal is set to be removed from the ‘green’ list in less than four days time;
  • Jet2 axed all international flights and holidays up to July 1 while Easyjet said it will ‘review’ its schedule;
  • Millions of Britons could be told to continue working from home past June 21 as the price for lifting the rest of lockdown;
  • Chinese virologist who was among first to tout Wuhan lab theory says Dr Anthony Fauci’s emails back up what she’s been saying all along;
  • Outdoor events with up to 10,000 people will be able to resume in Wales from Monday as Covid lockdown restrictions are further eased;
  • Britain yesterday recorded more than 5,000 coronavirus cases for the first time in more than two months while 18 more people died from the virus as the R rate soars above 1 in all but three parts of UK.

Professor Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said the Indian variant is anywhere between 30 and 100 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant Kent variant, which has been dubbed ‘Alpha’ under the World Health Organization’s new variant naming system.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘We’re certainly getting more data. Unfortunately, I mean, the news is not as positive as I would like on any respect about the Delta variant.

‘The best estimate at the moment is this variant may be 60 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant. 

‘Absolutely devastated’ Britons in Portugal fume after country is demoted to amber list sparking diplomatic storm and race for families to get home in the next four days or face quarantine and £1,000 of PCR tests 

Holidays to Portugal have been thrown into chaos as ministers removed the European country from the travel green list amid concerns over the new Nepal coronavirus variant.

The move triggered a furious diplomatic row, with Portugal’s president accusing UK ministers of ‘health fundamentalism’ and of being ‘obsessed’ with infection rates.

It also sparked a race among thousands of British holidaymakers in Portugal to get back before quarantine-on-return rules kick in on Tuesday, when the country is formally placed on the amber list.

Those booked to go to Portugal in coming weeks were left in limbo over whether to go ahead with their holiday under the tougher quarantine rules or to rebook for later in the summer and hope the country goes green again.

The decision to make Portugal amber was apparently triggered by concerns over the Nepal variant, a mutated version of the Indian strain. 

But Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s president, accused UK ministers of ‘not recognising that we live in a different situation than we lived before vaccination’.

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There’s some uncertainty around that depending on assumptions and how you analyse the data, between about 30 per cent and maybe even up to 100 per cent more transmissible’. Professor Ferguson said 60 per cent is ‘a good central estimate’ at the moment.

PHE confirmed last night that the strain is now dominant in the UK and makes up around 73 per cent of cases, displacing the Kent variant which sparked the second wave in January.

The agency said that it also appeared to be twice as likely to lead to hospitalisations, based on analysis on the small number of people who have been admitted with the strain.

The report said the risk of being admitted to hospital could increase by as much as 2.6 times over the Kent variant, and people may be 70 per cent more likely to go to A&E. 

There have been a total of 12,431 confirmed infections with the variant, known to scientists as B.1.617.2, and 94 people were admitted to hospital with it last week. That count of hospital admissions was double the week before, when 201 people went to A&E and 43 were admitted overnight. 

Professor Ferguson said that most people in hospital with the mutant virus have not had a vaccine. He told the Today programme: ‘It’s important to say that most people being hospitalised at the moment with this variant, and with any Covid variant, are unvaccinated.

‘So, it’s clear that the vaccines are still having a substantial effect, though it may be slightly compromised.’

He said they are still waiting for data on how much the Indian variant can evade the immunity which protects people against being admitted to hospital.

‘The data being reported relates to unvaccinated people, so if you haven’t been vaccinated there appears to be, both from Public Health England data and from Public Health Scotland data independently, about a two-fold increased risk of hospitalisation,’ he said. 

Matt Hancock said yesterday it was a ‘good sign’ that vaccinated people were making up only a minority of hospital admissions. The Health Secretary added the government is keeping a close eye on daily case levels but stressed what ‘really matters’ is how many people end up in hospital and die from the disease and how well the jabs keep numbers down.   

Covid hospital rates have started to rise in some regions in some regions in England, with patient numbers in the North West, where most Indian variant hotspots are concentrated, rising a quarter in the past fortnight. 

But the number of patients in hospital in the region are still a far cry from the levels seen at the peak of the second wave – there are currently about 180 Covid sufferers in North West hospitals compared to 5,500 in January.   

HOVER OVER YOUR LOCAL AREA TO FIND OUT HOW PREVALENT THE INDIAN VARIANT WAS BY MAY 22

Similar but less grim SAGE modelling by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested that a 50 per cent increase in transmissibility could trigger a peak of 4,000 admissions per day in July or August, possibly extending to 6,000 per day

Similar but less grim SAGE modelling by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested that a 50 per cent increase in transmissibility could trigger a peak of 4,000 admissions per day in July or August, possibly extending to 6,000 per day

Similar but less grim SAGE modelling by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested that a 50 per cent increase in transmissibility could trigger a peak of 4,000 admissions per day in July or August, possibly extending to 6,000 per day

The LSHTM model suggested hospitals could have another 30,000 inpatients by the end of July - up to around 45,000 - compared to the current 845

The LSHTM model suggested hospitals could have another 30,000 inpatients by the end of July - up to around 45,000 - compared to the current 845

The LSHTM model suggested hospitals could have another 30,000 inpatients by the end of July – up to around 45,000 – compared to the current 845

The LSHTM team suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible - which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January

The LSHTM team suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible - which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January

The LSHTM team suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible – which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January

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Public Health England figures show that in the last week of May more areas of the country were seeing increases in coronavirus cases. A total of 112 areas saw a rise in their infection rates while only 37 had declining rates of positive tests  

The PHE report showed that the proportion of cases being caused by the Indian variant has rocketed in all regions of the country. It is highest in the North West where nearly 100 per cent of cases are being caused by the strain

The PHE report showed that the proportion of cases being caused by the Indian variant has rocketed in all regions of the country. It is highest in the North West where nearly 100 per cent of cases are being caused by the strain

The PHE report showed that the proportion of cases being caused by the Indian variant has rocketed in all regions of the country. It is highest in the North West where nearly 100 per cent of cases are being caused by the strain

PHE confirmed the strain is now dominant in the UK and makes up around 73 per cent of cases, displacing the Kent variant which sparked the second wave in January

PHE confirmed the strain is now dominant in the UK and makes up around 73 per cent of cases, displacing the Kent variant which sparked the second wave in January

PHE confirmed the strain is now dominant in the UK and makes up around 73 per cent of cases, displacing the Kent variant which sparked the second wave in January

The effectiveness of vaccines protecting against people appears clearly evident in data in PHE's report. Of 9,427 recorded cases of the variant between February 1 and May 31, only 267 had had two doses of a jab (2.8 per cent)

The effectiveness of vaccines protecting against people appears clearly evident in data in PHE's report. Of 9,427 recorded cases of the variant between February 1 and May 31, only 267 had had two doses of a jab (2.8 per cent)

The effectiveness of vaccines protecting against people appears clearly evident in data in PHE’s report. Of 9,427 recorded cases of the variant between February 1 and May 31, only 267 had had two doses of a jab (2.8 per cent)

Sage expert warns that ‘awful’ lockdown curbs cannot last for ever

Sir Jeremy Farrar (pictured) said lockdowns are 'awful'

Sir Jeremy Farrar (pictured) said lockdowns are 'awful'

Sir Jeremy Farrar (pictured) said lockdowns are ‘awful’

Lockdowns are ‘awful’ and Britain must learn to live with Covid without restrictions, one of the country’s most senior scientists has warned.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the measures had had ‘very profound consequences’ on the nation’s mental health, education and jobs.

But he was hopeful that the Government would be able to open up on June 21 based on the data so far – but stressed the next few weeks would be ‘crucial.’

He pointed out that more than eight in ten adults would be vaccinated by then, adding that he was ‘very confident’ the jabs were working.

‘There is a danger of not opening up and this infection is now a human endemic infection. It’s not going away,’ he said. ‘Humanity will live with this virus now for ever. And there will be new variants. This year, next year, the year after, there will be new variants – and we will have to learn to cope with that.

‘Lockdowns are awful. They are a mark that you haven’t been able to control the virus in other ways. They have very profound consequences on mental health, on education, on job opportunities particularly affecting people on lower incomes.

‘Societies can’t stay in that mode for ever.’

Earlier this week Boris Johnson said that while there was nothing in the data to suggest the June 21 ending of lockdown could not go ahead, the numbers were ‘still ambiguous’.

But Sir Jeremy said he was hopeful the jabs had ‘separated’ the inevitable rise of infections which comes with easing restrictions and the subsequent increase in hospitalisations.

Asked whether he thought the country would be able to open up on June 21, he added: ‘If you really push me today, I would say I’m more optimistic because I think that the vaccines have been so incredibly successful.’

 

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Everest climbers could have spread ‘potentially more infectious AND vaccine resistant’ Nepal Covid variant across the world

PHE’s weekly report found the variant had been spotted 43 times in Britain so far, up from the 29 last week 

A potentially vaccine resistant coronavirus variant that is being linked to Nepal could have been spread by climbers travelling home from Mount Everest, experts say.

Thirteen passengers on flights from Nepal to Japan were infected with the new mutant strain that combines mutations from the Indian and South African variants.

At least 43 cases have been spotted in the UK, with the strain first spotted on April 24 according to PHE’s surveillance data. Cases were also detected in the US, India and Portugal.

Its mutations mean scientists fear it could combine the worst traits of the Indian variant, which is more infectious, and the South African variant, which is more resistant to vaccines.

Scientists believe Nepal is the most likely origin of the strain, because of its similarities to the Indian variant and the detection of so many cases on flights from the Himalayan nation.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘There’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected and we just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine-defeating mutation, and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21 and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.’ 

Dr Jeffrey Barrett, a director at the UK’s largest Covid surveillance centre the Wellcome Sanger Institute, revealed today that the strain had been spotted in the Japanese travellers returning from Nepal.

Khatmandu has allowed thousands of climbers into the country for Everest season this spring and at least 100 cases were reported at base camp.

At the same time, Covid cases have been soaring across Nepal driven by the devastating second wave in neighbouring India.

And the detection of the variant in Portugal will raise further alarm bells for the UK, where hundreds of football fans have been ordered to quarantine today over cases linked to travel to the Champions League final. The country was today removed from Britain’s ‘green’ list, amid fears over the new variant.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said today Portugal had been removed from the ‘green’ list because its cases had doubled in a month, and there was a new variant which may be able to evade vaccines.

‘There’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected and we just don’t know the potential for that to be vaccine-defeating mutation and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21 and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock,’ he said.

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Another concerning study published last night by the Francis Crick Institute and the National Institute for Health Research UCLH Biomedical Research Centre found people who have had the Pfizer vaccine have lower antibody levels targeting the Indian coronavirus variant than other strains.

It found the levels of these antibodies are lower with increasing age and that levels decline over time.

Antibodies are just one part of the immune system and they are known to fade over time. A reduction suggests people may be more likely to test positive for the Indian variant but not necessarily fall ill with it. 

Researchers say this provides additional evidence in support of plans to deliver a vaccine boost to vulnerable people in the autumn.

But it could spark fears in some corners that the Pfizer jab is less effective in preventing serious illness from the more transmissible variant, known as Covid Delta. 

Public Health England said the variant appears to be twice as likely to lead to hospital admissions as the Kent strain which sparked the second wave, and has become dominant in the UK.  

Together with the emergence of a so-called Nepalese variant, the data could persuade ministers to pause the final easing of restrictions due to take place on June 21, which is being dubbed ‘Freedom Day’. 

The new laboratory data also supports current plans to reduce the dose gap between vaccines.

The study found that after just one dose of the Pfizer jab, people are less likely to develop antibody levels against the Indian (B.1.617.2) variant, also known as Delta, as high as those seen against the previously dominant Kent variant (B.1.1.7) also known as Alpha.

However, levels of antibodies alone do not predict vaccine effectiveness and prospective population studies are also needed. Lower neutralising antibody levels may still be associated with protection against Covid-19, the experts say.

Pfizer has been contacted for comment. 

The Indian variant is now believed to be dominant in the UK, with early evidence suggesting it may lead to an increased risk of being admitted to hospital compared with the Kent variant.

A total of 12,431 cases of the mutation have been confirmed in the UK up to June 2, according to Public Health England. This up 79 per cent from the previous week’s total of 6,959.

Emma Wall, UCLH Infectious Diseases consultant and senior clinical research fellow for the Legacy study, said: ‘This virus will likely be around for some time to come, so we need to remain agile and vigilant.

‘Our study is designed to be responsive to shifts in the pandemic so that we can quickly provide evidence on changing risk and protection.

‘The most important thing is to ensure that vaccine protection remains high enough to keep as many people out of hospital as possible.

‘And our results suggest that the best way to do this is to quickly deliver second doses and provide boosters to those whose immunity may not be high enough against these new variants.’

This is the largest study published to date investigating vaccine-induced antibody neutralising capacity against the newest variants of concern in healthy adults. 

Researchers have submitted their findings to the Genotype-to-Phenotype National Virology Consortium (G2P-UK), the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). 

The Legacy study is led by the Crick and partners at UCL and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH).

Healthcare workers and staff from the institutions have been donating regular blood and swab samples so researchers can track the changing risk of infection and response to vaccination. 

Within days of having enough of each variant to study, researchers analysed antibodies in the blood of 250 healthy people who received either one or two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, up to three months after their first dose.

They tested the ability of antibodies to block entry of the virus into cells, so called neutralising antibodies against five different variants – the original strain from China, the dominant strain in Europe during the first wave in April 2020, and the variants first detected in Kent, South Africa and India.

Data from previous studies suggests that higher antibody titres – the greatest dilution level that still blocks 50 per cent of virus infection in the lab – is a good predictor of vaccine efficacy and greater protection against Covid-19.

According to the research, in people who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, levels of neutralising antibodies were more than five times lower against the Indian variant when compared to the original strain, upon which current vaccines are based.

This antibody response was even lower in people who had only received one dose.

After a single dose of the Pfizer jab, 79 per cent of people had a quantifiable neutralising antibody response against the original strain, but this fell to 50 per cent for B.1.1.7, 32 per cent for B.1.617.2 and 25 per cent for B.1.351 (South Africa).

David LV Bauer, group leader of the Crick’s RNA Virus Replication Laboratory and member of the G2P-UK National Virology Consortium, said: ‘New variants occur naturally and those that have an advantage will spread.

‘We now have the ability to quickly adapt our vaccination strategies to maximise protection where we know people are most vulnerable. Keeping track of these evolutionary changes is essential for us to retain control over the pandemic and return to normality.’

The Research Letter published in The Lancet states: ‘These data, together with epidemiological data of B.1.617.2 growth, raise the possibility that this VOC (variant of concern) presents a dual challenge of reduced vaccine efficacy akin to the B.1.351 VOC, and increased transmissibility beyond the B.1.1.7 VOC.’

Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious disease, University of Edinburgh, said: ‘These data cannot tell us whether the vaccine will be any less effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and death; we need to wait for the actual data on these outcomes.’ 

it came as a SAGE expert and one of the country’s most senior scientists decried lockdowns as ‘awful’ and said Britain must learn to live with Covid without restrictions. 

Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is also director of the Wellcome Trust, said repeated shutdowns had ‘very profound consequences’ on the nation’s mental health.

But he was hopeful that the Government would be able to open up on June 21 based on the data so far – but stressed the next few weeks would be ‘crucial.’

He pointed out that more than eight in ten adults would be vaccinated by then, adding that he was ‘very confident’ the jabs were working.

‘There is a danger of not opening up and this infection is now a human endemic infection. It’s not going away,’ he said. ‘Humanity will live with this virus now for ever. And there will be new variants. This year, next year, the year after, there will be new variants – and we will have to learn to cope with that.

‘Lockdowns are awful. They are a mark that you haven’t been able to control the virus in other ways. They have very profound consequences on mental health, on education, on job opportunities particularly affecting people on lower incomes.

‘Societies can’t stay in that mode for ever.’

Earlier this week Boris Johnson said that while there was nothing in the data to suggest the June 21 ending of lockdown could not go ahead, the numbers were ‘still ambiguous’.

But Sir Jeremy said he was hopeful the jabs had ‘separated’ the inevitable rise of infections which comes with easing restrictions and the subsequent increase in hospitalisations.

Asked whether he thought the country would be able to open up on June 21, he added: ‘If you really push me today, I would say I’m more optimistic because I think that the vaccines have been so incredibly successful.’

Meanwhile, seats on the last flights back to London from the Algarve before Portugal is removed from the UK’s green list in less than four days’ time were on sale for up to £711 today as Britons faced a race to get home – with more than 112,000 in the country on holiday.

Air passengers leave Faro Airport on May 17, which was the first day that Britons were allowed to enter Portugal without needing to quarantine and the foreign travel ban was lifted

Empty sunshades wait for customers at Gale beach at Albufeira in Portugal's Algarve on May 18

Empty sunshades wait for customers at Gale beach at Albufeira in Portugal's Algarve on May 18

Empty sunshades wait for customers at Gale beach at Albufeira in Portugal’s Algarve on May 18

Britons keen to stay abroad for as long as they can before the new rules come in next Tuesday at 4am face paying at least £258 if they fly back home the night before. That is the cheapest flight next Monday, a WizzAir route leaving Faro at 9.05pm local time and arriving at London Luton at 11.50pm, four hours before the rules change.

Anyone flying back today faces paying at least £99, also for a WizzAir flight to Luton; while it is £91 on Saturday or £172 on Sunday, both for easyJet services to Gatwick. The most expensive seats before Tuesday’s deadline can be found for £711 on a British Airways service from Faro to London City, leaving next Monday at 11am.

Those returning from an amber list country will be required either to quarantine at home for ten days on their return and take a PCR test on days two and eight, as well as a lateral flow test before the return flight. Or they can pay for an additional third ‘Test to Release’ on day five to end self-isolation early. They will still need to take the compulsory second test on or after day eight.

British families of four in Portugal now face having to pay £1,500 to buy three sets of PCR tests at £125 each, if they go under the ‘Test to Release’ scheme. Adding this to the cost of a lateral flow test, which can be bought at Faro Airport for €30 (£25), the total cost for a family of four would be about £1,600.

Holidays to Portugal have been thrown into chaos after ministers removed the European country from the travel green list amid concerns over the new Nepal coronavirus variant. The move triggered a furious diplomatic row, with Portugal’s president accusing UK ministers of ‘health fundamentalism’ and of being ‘obsessed’ with infection rates.

It also sparked a race among thousands of Britons in Portugal to get back before quarantine-on-return rules kick in on Tuesday. Those booked to go in coming weeks were left in limbo over whether to go ahead with their holiday under the tougher quarantine rules or to rebook for later in the summer and hope the country goes green again.

Mr Jenrick defended the decision to move Portugal off the list today, insisting it ‘wasn’t a last minute decision’.

‘When we set up the system, we said that we would be reviewing the countries every three weeks, that’s what’s happened,’ he told Times Radio.

Asked whether people should still visit amber countries, he said: ‘I hope people will appreciate that you shouldn’t be visiting those countries on the amber list for holidays. ‘You wouldn’t drive through an amber light at the traffic lights, you shouldn’t be going on holiday to those countries either.’

INDIAN ‘DELTA’ VARIANT TRIGGERING SCHOOL OUTBREAKS IN PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SCHOOLS, PHE REPORT SHOWS

Coronavirus outbreaks in English schools have been linked to the Indian variant and the number of them has almost doubled in the past fortnight.

The Public Health England report published last night showed that 97 school outbreaks have been linked to the Delta variant in the past four weeks.

The strain has, since mid-May, accounted for significantly more outbreaks in primary and secondary schools than any other variant. 

In the most recent week, to May 30, there were more than 90 outbreaks or clusters linked to schools, with just over 40 linked definitively to the Indian strain. The other half were ‘unknown’, suggesting many of them may also have been caused by the variant because it is now dominant.

Scientists are concerned that young people and children might be more likely to get sick with this variant than previous strains, and case rates are now significantly higher among under-40s than older people, and highest among teenagers. 

The risk of serious illness is still believed to be vanishingly small but if children and teenagers get symptoms – which they didn’t tend to with other variants – they may be more likely to spread the virus.

PHE said that 97 school outbreaks have been linked to the Delta variant in the past four weeks

PHE said that 97 school outbreaks have been linked to the Delta variant in the past four weeks

PHE said that 97 school outbreaks have been linked to the Delta variant in the past four weeks

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