A new strain of Covid-19, first identified in India, is rapidly spreading across England, with the variant accounting for up to 75 per cent of new cases, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has said.
Figures from Public Health England (PHE) show that the number of confirmed cases of the new strain in the UK nearly doubled in the week to 19 May – from 3,424 to 6,959. While the overall number of Covid-19 cases has remained generally stable as the new variant replaces the older B.1.1.7 strain, some areas, such as Bolton and Blackburn, have seen their case numbers surge in recent weeks.
Despite PHE placing the variant under investigation on 1 April, it was not until 23 April that the UK government added India to its “red list” of countries with restricted travel. The emergence of the new strain has raised concerns over England’s plan to end all pandemic restrictions on 21 June, with Boris Johnson saying he doesn’t “see anything currently in the data to suggest we have to deviate from the roadmap, but we may need to wait”.
A study by PHE found that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are still “highly effective” against the new variant, though both offer reduced protection after only one jab.