UK’s Johnson says govt must be ‘very careful’ as Indian Covid strain labelled ‘variant of concern’

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The British prime minister has said there is reason to be careful as the country opens up following months of restrictions and a fast-paced vaccination campaign, as health authorities raise concerns about an Indian Covid variant.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the government would be carefully monitoring – and would take steps to slow – the spread of the so-called Indian variant of Covid-19 which has been detected in the UK. 

“I think we’ve got to be very careful about that. We’re doing a huge amount, obviously, to make sure that when we do find outbreaks of the Indian variant that we do surge testing, that we do door-to-door testing,” he told reporters. 

The PM’s comments came after Public Health England (PHE) labelled the strain, called variant B.1.617.2, a “variant of concern” on Friday. PHE said the variant was still under investigation. 

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“There is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective,” the health authority added in a statement on the issue.

On Friday, the BBC reported that a source told the broadcaster there were 500 known cases of the Indian variant in England, with the highest prevalence in London and the north west. The figure represents a sharp rise from the 202 cases recorded by PHE on April 28. 

There is concern that the variant could spread further as Covid restrictions are gradually released. People in England are currently allowed to meet outside in groups of six or two households, with further health rule relaxations scheduled for mid-May. From May 17, people across England, Scotland, and Wales will be able to eat and drink indoors in pubs and restaurants. 

While two-thirds of the UK’s adult population have had at least one Covid-19 inoculation dose, the virus’s mutations may make the vaccines currently in use less effective in fighting it. The variant is particularly prominent in India, where case numbers have skyrocketed.

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