Coronavirus Pandemic

Covid-19: UK 'anxious' about Indian variant, PM Boris Johnson says

Prasun Sonwalkar/London
Filed on May 13, 2021
Photo: AFP

Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies due to meet later today to review latest data

Growing number of infections linked to the Indian variant termed ‘B.1.617.2’ has made the United Kingdom (UK) “anxious”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday, (May 13) adding that no measure can be ruled out to contain its spread as the country eases several Covid-19 curbs from Monday (May 17).

Experts have cautioned health authorities against the early lifting of restrictions while the Indian variant spreads in parts of the UK, including new cases in Northern Ireland. It has been classified as a Variant of Concern by public health authorities.

Johnson said: “It (the Indian variant) is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it. At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinions about what could happen. We want to make sure we take all the prudential, cautious steps now that we could take, so there are meetings going on today to consider exactly what we need to do. There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out".

The government has announced an easing of several curbs from Monday, including overseas holiday travel to 12 countries on the ‘green list’, while almost all restrictions are to be lifted by June 21.

Asked if local lockdowns were a possibility, Johnson said: “At the moment, I can see nothing that dissuades me from thinking we will be able to go ahead (with easing restrictions) on Monday and indeed on June 21, everywhere, but there may be things we have to do locally and we will not hesitate to do them if that is the advice we get."

The PM said he remains "cautiously optimistic" that the UK could get "much closer to normality" as set out in the road-map up to June 21: "I think we have to wait a little bit longer to see how the data is looking but I am cautiously optimistic about that and provided this Indian variant doesn't take off in the way some people fear, I think certain things could get back much, much closer to normality."

Experts at Imperial College London said that while new Covid-19 infections have halved compared with March, the Indian variant could be spreading faster than the “Kent variant”, at least in London.

James Naismith of the University of Oxford told that the Indian variant “will get everywhere”, warning that he did not believe local restrictions would work to contain the variant, and urged the government to tackle it as a country-wide problem.

He said: “We keep learning this lesson, but we know that this will be the case. When we tried locally having different restrictions in different regions that didn’t really make any difference. So I don’t think thinking about a localised strategy for containment will really work.”

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies is due to meet later on Thursday to review the latest data and advise the government on the Indian variant, which is reported to be responsible for a surge of Covid-19 cases in India.

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