ENGLAND should hold back on lifting all restrictions for months amid fears around the spread of the Indian variant, an expert has said.
Waiting more time would allow more people to get double-jabbed – offering the best protection against the strain.
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Two doses of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine offer at least 66 per cent protection – which is halved with only one dose.
Christina Pagel, a mathematician who specialises in health data and professor of operational research at University College London, said holding off June 21 would be better in the long run.
Asked if a delay would be demoralising, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think what’s demoralising is having a third wave.
“If we can just delay international travel, delay the fourth step of the roadmap until we have a much higher proportion of people vaccinated with two doses, we are in a much much better position.
“We’re only two months away from that. It’s not long to wait.”
Only around four in ten adults have had two doses of their vaccine, which is “not good dose coverage”, Prof Pagel said.
By comparison, Israel cautiously unlocked when 70 per cent of adults had both doses and have now “effectively reached zero Covid”.
Prof Pagel, who is a member of Independent Sage, said we have “every reason to be concerned about this variant spreading”.
And she said “unless we get hard evidence” the Indian variant is not as concerning as early data suggests, June 21 should not go ahead.
Prof Pagel said: “I think the idea of everything is fine, I just don’t think that is substantiated.
“We are in a situation where compared to two months ago, we now have a dominant variant that both transmits faster and our vaccines aren’t as effective against it.”
Cases of the Indian variant of Covid-19 reached almost 7,000 – double the figure given a week ago.
Professor Andrew Hayward, from University College London and a member of the Sage group Nervtag, warned: “It only takes five or six doublings for that to get up to say a quarter-million cases, and then you could set the pressure on the NHS and avoidable illnesses.”
He said when further restrictions were lifted “instead of doubling every week it’s likely to double more frequently than that of course”.
“So I think there is a good argument for caution until such time as we’ve got a much higher proportion of the population double vaccinated”, he added.
He said people who have only had one dose of the vaccine could end up in hospital, even if they were young.
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed the majority of people who are in hospital with Covid are unvaccinated.
This meant the age profile of people being treated was younger, at around 45 years old, according to NHS Providers chief Chris Hospson.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, says the numbers of cases had become “quite worrying”.
She added “the number in hospitals across the country remains low” – however, data shows that figures are up in hotspots like Bolton.
Despite the growing concern, the PM repeated to reporters on Thursday he “didn’t see anything currently in the data” to divert from next month’s target.
But he added: “We may need to wait.”
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group, said more research was needed to understand what could happen should the June 21 step go ahead.
He said it was expected cases would go up because some restrictions have been lifted.
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“Obviously the worry is that, because it’s a bit more transmissible, then there is the potential for a further wave of infections and potentially hospital admissions will start to rise again,” he added.
But he told BBC Breakfast “it seems like the vaccines work pretty well, particularly after a second dose”.
And the jabs mean “we are in a very different place from, say, in October when we were starting to see cases rising in a concerning way”.