The Indian variant poses to derail UK’s cautious roadmap back to a life more normal as it is more contagious and severe than other strains. Some scientists working on B.1.617.2 believe it is destined to displace the dominant and highly transmissible Kent variant, B.1.1.7, in the UK.
Experts warned that a highly transmissible variant, one that spreads more easily than the Kent variant, could lead to a very significant wave of infections, potentially larger than that seen in January 2021 if there were no interventions. However, epidemiologists are still trying to figure out how transmissible the India variant of concern is. Preliminary work based on genome sequencing in India raises the prospect of it spreading up to 60% more easily.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, at a news conference on Friday, said the variant looked to be more transmissible than other strains. England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty said that there’s “confidence” its “more transmissible” than the variants already circulating in the country. “Earlier this week we said that we thought it was as transmissible as B.1.1.7 (Kent variant) and possible even more so. There is now confidence that this variant is more transmissible than B.1.1.7.”
Johnson said there was currently no evidence that the variant would evade the vaccines that are being deployed across the UK. “But I have to level with you, this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” he said. “And I must stress that we will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe.”
According to The Guardian, a third wave of COVID-19 will drive people into hospital despite the mass vaccination programme. While the vast majority of older and more vulnerable people have been inoculated, the vaccines are not 100% protective, and do not work in everyone. As a result, scientific advisers expect many of those hospitalized in the third wave to be vaccinated, just not well protected from their shots.
The UK’s vaccine rollout, as per various reports, has been one of the fastest in the world with almost 70% of the adult population having received at least one shot. Vaccines are available to those over the age of 38, but the government has said they could be made available to younger people living in multigenerational households.