Covid: Indian variant being carefully monitored amid UK rise – BBC … Thu, 13 May 2021 09:00:00 +0100-Fears of delay to next stage of restriction easing as cases triple in a week.
The new variant of Covid-19 first identified in India is being closely monitored in the UK and is of “increasing concern”, prime minister Boris Johnson has said, as fears grow that its unchecked spread could delay the final easing of lockdown restrictions on 21 June.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is set to meet on Thursday to discuss the highly transmissible variant after UK cases tripled in a week from 520 to more than 1,700.
That comes after Mr Johnson warned that a further coronavirus surge is likely this winter, warning of “even greater suffering” as he announced that an independent public inquiry into his administration’s handling of the pandemic would commence next spring.
Where has the Indian variant before found?
Infections appear to be particularly prevalent in the north west of England in areas like Bolton, Greater Manchester and Blackburn. Andy Burnham, the mayor for Greater Manchester, has said the Joint Committee for Vaccines and Immunisations (JCVI) is considering a request to vaccinate all over-16s in Bolton to thwart the rising infection rate.
The variant has also been detected in Newcastle and Tynemouth on Tyneside, as well as in parts of London and in Scotland.
Leaked Public Health England documents seen by The Guardian indicated a further 48 clusters of the Indian variant have been identified, with some linked to secondary schools, care homes and religious gatherings.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, James Naismith of Oxford University said on Monday: “I think we should view it as a country-wide problem. It will get everywhere. We keep learning this lesson, but we know that this will be the case.
He added that local restrictions would not contain the variant’s spread. “When we tried locally having different restrictions in different regions that didn’t really make any difference. So I don’t think thinking about a localised strategy for containment will really work.”
How many UK cases have there been so far?
Figures due out shortly are expected to confirm a total of 1,723 cases of B1617.2, one of three mutations fuelling the spiralling death toll in India, currently the world epicentre of the crisis.
All three have been designated as “under investigation” by health officials.
Why is it such a cause for concern?
The Indian coronavirus variant is considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the variant features two “escape mutations” – E484Q and L452R – that “are causing people to be concerned”.
“There’s laboratory evidence that both of these are escape mutations,” he told the PA news agency.
“Basically, applying what we know about other human coronaviruses would suggest that this is going to be even less controlled by vaccine. But we don’t know that for certain at the moment.”
This variant, along with others like the Brazilian, South African and Kent strains, has demonstrated the way in which Sars-CoV-2 can adapt to a human host when placed under selective pressures.
Their unique mutations are specific to the three-dimensional spikes that coat the shell of the virus. “If you think of a lock and key mechanism, the spike protein is the key and then the lock is the receptor on a human cell,” said Professor Deenan Pillay, a virologist at University College London.
Through evolution, this structure has changed shape to make it easier for the virus to bind with and penetrate our cells, as seen with the UK variant.
Some Covid variants, including the Indian one, have mutated to become less recognisable to neutralising human antibodies that would normally attach to the virus’s spike protein and block its entry.
This type of mutation therefore allows Sars-CoV-2 to slip past the first line of immunological defence in people who have been vaccinated or previously infected, enabling the virus to carry on circulating.
Indian variant: Where in the UK has the new coronavirus strain been … Thu, 13 May 2021 09:00:00 +0100-There are concerns the variant may be more transmissible and infectious than the UK variant.
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Senior Political Reporter
Surge testing in areas where the Indian variant has been found is not working, sources have told the BBC.
The strategy is identifying lots of cases but is not stopping the spread of the variant, according to sources.
The variant is now being seen in lots of places, with few cases linked to travel, and case numbers have been “grossly underestimated”, they said.
Extra meetings of government scientific advisers – including the health secretary and chief medical officer – are taking place to consider the growing number of cases of the Indian variant, the BBC has been told.
It is believed stage three of the roadmap for easing lockdown in England will go ahead on Monday but consideration is being given to the question of whether social distancing rules could be relaxed.
The BBC understands that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already signed off on a reduction of social distancing measures – but a politically difficult rethink may now be under consideration.
There are now also questions being raised about the possible need to delay stage four of the easing – planned for 21 June – which would see all legal limits on social contact lifted.
One of the key tests for unlocking is the emergence of variants – and the increasing number of cases of the Indian variant could have an impact.
It is believed an announcement of a greater focus on outbreaks of the Indian variant could be made some time after 14:00 BST.
The number of people on universal credit has doubled to six million since the start of the pandemic.
And cases of fraud and error involving this benefit have reached record levels, according to new figures.
A total of £8.4bn was lost in 2020-21, up from £4.6bn the previous year, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
The vast majority of claims are genuine and fraud can be as simple as claiming money you’re not entitled to, the DWP says.
But some criminals steal people’s details to apply for advance payments of universal credit. The money is paid to them but the person whose identity has been stolen gets the bill.
That’s what happened to Jo Darby from Birmingham who received a bill for a £1,475.52 universal credit advance.
The DWP refused to talk to her because she was unable to verify the security questions on the scam universal credit account. Then her employer was instructed to deduct money from her salary.
It took the intervention of BBC Radio 4’s Money Box programme to resolve the situation – here’s what happened.
The first large-scale outdoor event in Wales since March last year is being held as part of a trial to manage crowds as Covid restrictions ease.
Between 300 and 500 people are expected to celebrate Eid at Cardiff Castle.
Attendees will need proof of a negative Covid test on arrival and they must keep to social distancing rules.
Sporting matches, festivals and theatre events are among nine outdoor post-pandemic trials being held in Wales in May and June.
Eid is a celebration to mark the end of Ramadan, a month of prayer and fasting for Muslims.
Officials are not ruling out surge vaccinations in areas with spike of new variants, Downing Street has said.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) was meeting later and would provide further updates on the variant first identified in India.
However, he said there were “no plans” to reintroduce the tier system in England amid concerns local restrictions could be needed in areas where variants are identified.
The spokesman said: “We have set out what we want to do on the road map, moving together as a nation on this, and that has been very successful so far.
“We have got a raft of measures available to us which are already in place, with regards local testing, surge testing and tracing,” he added.
When Felicia Selvaraj became ill with coronavirus in April 2020, she was told she was unlikely to survive.
More than a year on, the nurse from Birmingham is still unwell with long Covid, feeling tired and breathless.
She’s now receiving treatment at one of more than 60 specialist clinics set up across England to find out more about the lasting effects of the disease.
There is no universally-agreed definition of long Covid, but it covers a broad range of symptoms.
And it’s thought to affect about one in five people five weeks after an initial infection, ONS figures suggest.
Ms Selvaraj says she’s had a “very hard year” after Covid made her “very ill”.
“The road to recovery, it’s very very long. I’m getting better slowly, every day one more step,” she says.
Also being treated at the clinic in Birmingham is Rob Smith, a key worker who contracted the virus in January. Four months on, he is exhausted after a short walk.
“Some days I wake up and I’m fine and then some days I wake up and I’ve got no energy,” he says.
You can find out more about the work of the long Covid clinic here.
Secondary school pupils in Selby, North Yorkshire, are being advised to continue to wear face coverings in the classroom from next week despite a change in national government guidance.
Face coverings have been recommended in classrooms in England since the return to school in March – but that will end on Monday as part of the phasing out of lockdown measures.
However, Louise Wallace, director of public health for North Yorkshire, has said pupils in Selby should keep their masks on in the classroom due to higher than average Covid infection rates in the area.
She said the secondary pupils and staff would continue to be advised to wear face coverings in classrooms and communal areas until the May half term at the end of the month.
Selby had a case rate of 68 per 100,000 people in the week to 8 May, compared to the England average of 16.
The prime minister has described NHS waiting times as “a massive national challenge”, after the number of people waiting to start hospital treatment rose to a record high.
“There’s no question that the NHS now faces a huge backlog,” Boris Johnson said.
“It’s a massive national challenge but I also know that a great, great national institution that has proved itself capable of rising to the most phenomenal challenges.
“It was never overwhelmed by Covid, it hasn’t been so far and I know it can cope with the backlog.”
– May 13, 2021
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