Indian variant now dominant in UK, says Prof Neil Ferguson, as June 21 easing ‘in the balance’


he Indian Covid variant is now the “dominant strain” in Britain and cases are set to grow into another surge of the disease, a leading scientist has said.

Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College London epidemiologist whose work was key to the first lockdown, added that the B1.617.2 variant’s spread meant that the June 21 final easing of lockdown was still “in the balance”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s now in well over the majority of local authority areas in the country and is now the dominant strain, the majority of new cases are of the variant – that is obviously concerning.

“It’s gone from being really a small minority a month ago to the majority variant.”

Experts are still working to establish how much more transmissible it is than the Kent variant which was the main strain in the UK until recently.

Prof Ferguson continued: “On top of that, we know that it partially evades the immunity generated by vaccines, thankfully if people have had two doses then there is still a large amount of immunity/protection remaining but it’s not quite as good as it was before.

“I would say Step 4 (of easing lockdown) is rather in the balance.”

Data collected in the next two to three weeks would be “critical” in showing whether this final relaxation of lockdown should proceed, with the ending of social distancing.

“It’s in the balance. On the positive side we do have very low infection levels still despite this new variant,” he explained further.

The latest survey from the Office for National Statistics, he added, suggests that less than one in 1,000 people in England are infected with the disease at the moment, though the level is slightly higher in Scotland.

“Overall case numbers are ticking up now in multiple areas, particularly in the North West of England, but still at a relatively low rate,” said Prof Ferguson.

“The key issue as to whether we can go forward is will the surge caused by the Indian variant, and we do think there will be a surge, be more than has been already planned into the relaxation measures.


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