Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Observer View on the Spread of the Indian Variant in the UK

THE OBSERVER: The government’s slow response to ban travel to and from India has put the UK at risk

‘Data, not dates.” This was the approach Boris Johnson promised to take when he announced the roadmap out of lockdown for England in February. So far, the data has allowed the prime minister to meet the target dates for each phase of relaxing of social restrictions. Infection rates are the lowest they have been since last August; the number of people in hospital with Covid has dropped dramatically and vaccination is proceeding apace.

Yet as we stand on the cusp of the next easing of social restrictions, happening across England, Wales and most of Scotland tomorrow, there are worrying signs that the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India is spreading quickly in some parts of the country. In Bolton, infection rates are 10 times higher than the English average. They may not yet justify a nationwide slowing in easing restrictions but they are worrying and require a rapid localised response to contain outbreaks. This mixed picture is a bitter pill to swallow. For weeks, the national mood has justifiably been one of relief; psychologically, it has felt like the end is in sight. The majority of British adults have now had one jab, offering them a good level of protection against Covid. Yet it was always clear that the biggest risk of a serious third wave would be from the spread of a variant that is more transmissable [sic], more likely to cause serious illness or with a greater degree of vaccine resistance. Scientists are now confident that B.1.617.2 is at least as transmissable [sic] as the B.1.1.7 variant originally detected in Kent, which contributed to the terrible death rates we saw in the second wave, and quite possibly more so. If this is the case, the race between the virus and the vaccine rollout will become more loaded in the former’s favour: modelling suggests that hospital admissions could increase significantly beyond what was seen in the second wave if B.1.617.2 proves to be much more transmissible [sic]. » | Observer editorial | Sunday, May 16, 2021