ECONOMY

PM warns Indian variant could deliver ‘serious disruption’ to lockdown plans

B

oris Johnson has warned that plans to end lockdown restrictions next month are in jeopardy as scientists feared the Indian coronavirus variant could be 50% more transmissible than the Kent strain.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference that England will face “hard choices” if the Indian variant of concern turned out to be much more transmissible than others.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that would mean “a really significant surge” in infections, as he predicted the variant could become the most dominant strain across the UK.

Mr Johnson said he will press ahead with plans to lift restrictions on Monday, permitting people to mix indoors as well as allowing physical contact to return between households for the first time in over a year.

In a bid to dampen the effects of the variant, Mr Johnson announced that people aged over 50 and the clinically vulnerable will have their second doses of a Covid vaccine accelerated.

The downbeat briefing took place as it emerged the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergences (Sage) concluded it is “highly likely” the Indian strain is more transmissible than the one that emerged in Kent.

The minutes of the meeting on Thursday showed they believe there is a “realistic possibility that it is as much as 50% more transmissible”.

They warned there will be an even faster increase in cases if restrictions are lifted, suggesting a peak of infection can be expected after Monday’s easing, and certainly at step four in June when all legal limits on social contact are due to end.

Sage said that if higher levels of transmissibility are confirmed, moving to step three on Monday could “lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks)”.

The scientists also acknowledged there “may be some reduction in protection” conferred by vaccines on the Indian variant.

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