“The new Indian Covid variant could be more transmissible than the Kent mutation”, Professor Chris Whitty, England’s (CMO) chief medical officer, warned during a press conference on the 10th stating that at least 40 percent of London cases are caused because of the Indian covid variant.
“That is what happened with B.1.1.7 (which is commonly called the Kent variant and is currently dominant in Britain) and that has happened to India with this variant as well. I think our view is that this is a highly transmissible variant, at least as transmissible as the B.1.1.7 variant. It is possible it is more transmissible but we’ll have to see.
He added: “At this point in time, our view is that it is less likely to be able to escape vaccination than some of the other variants, particularly the South African one. But the data are not properly in there, so I think we need to be cautious until we’ve seen clear data that gives us an answer one way or the other.”
Public Health England data show the variant of concern scientifically called B.1.617.2 makes up between 40 percent and half of all cases detected in London. Data shows that the international hub of London could become an epicenter of the new variant, with cases also high in Bolton, Greater Manchester. And of the cases seen in the capital, only a fifth have been among travelers to India, suggesting community spread is well underway.
B.1.617.2 has grown in numbers at an alarming rate when compared with other new variants, such as that from South Africa and Brazil, and even against the other two variants from India B.1.617 and B.1.617.3. It has been confirmed in at least 520 people, according to Public Health England, double the 202 the week prior, with a further 200 or so under investigation.
PHE says B.1.617.2 appears equally transmissible as the Kent variant, but some scientists believe it can spread even faster. At the current rate of growth, B.1.617.2 is set to overtake in a matter of weeks.
Prof Christina Pagel, a mathematician, and professor of operational research at University College London said a PHE report last Friday contained “some quite disturbing” details on B.1.617.2. She wrote on Twitter that “the rapidness of B.1.617.2 is evident”. Scientists track cases of variants by genetically sequencing the swabs of positive Covid tests. They do this for around 50 percent of all positives giving a rough estimate of the prevalence of each coronavirus strain.
Dr. Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, said on Good Morning Britain: “Cases of this new variant are doubling every week within the UK while other variants are dropping. Overall, cases have been dropping, which shows that even with current restrictions in place this variant is growing very, very quickly. In London, 50 percent of cases now are no longer the so-called Kent variant.”
The PHE report said B.1.617.2 may have already “replaced the Kent variant to some extent” in some regions. This is a concern because vaccines that have been given to millions of Brits have been designed to tackle older variants. They have been tested against the “original” coronavirus strain from Wuhan to prove efficacy, and have since been shown to work against the Kent strain. But the jabs have not been tested against B.1.617.2. It does have a mutation called L452R which “has been associated with weaker neutralization of the virus” in blood samples of people with antibodies.
Professor Whitty’s comments came in the same televised briefing that Prime Minister Boris Johnson used to announce a major loosening of lockdown rules for next Monday. The Prime Minister batted away calls for the lockdown to be eased faster tonight as he talked up the latest relaxations, with pints inside the pub back from Monday, along with hugs for friends and family and staycations.
It came just an hour after it was revealed that England had recorded zero Covid deaths for the first time since July, despite growing fears about the Indian variant. Britain’s outbreak overall remains flat, with another four fatalities and 2,357 cases posted today.