London: The number of U.K. cases of a worrying coronavirus variant from India more than doubled for a second week as authorities also monitor a new mutation of the virus, adding fresh doubt to U.K. plans to fully unlock the economy.
Health officials have now detected 3,424 cases of the B1.617.2 variant, also known as VOC-21APR-02, Public Health England said Thursday in a statement. That’s up from 1,313 last week, and 520 a week earlier. They’re also investigating a mutation called VUI-21MAY-01, with 49 cases logged so far.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that he was “anxious” about the Indian variant, and warned that it could affect the country’s plans to reopen the remaining bits of the economy from lockdown on June 21. Those concerns prompted authorities to alter the country’s vaccination program, shortening the interval between doses. And even though stage 3 of the government’s reopening plan went ahead Monday, the fast spread of the new variant remain a cause for concern.
“As we start to get back to normal life, it is very important that we do not become complacent,” Health Security Agency Chief Executive Officer Jenny Harries said in PHE’s statement. “All of us need to remain responsible and vigilant.”
Nevertheless, ministers and officials this week have struck an increasingly optimistic tone, with the premier saying Wednesday that he has “increasing confidence” vaccines are working against all coronavirus variants. More than 70% of U.K. adults have now had at least one dose of vaccine, making the country’s program one of the most advanced in the world.
Most of the 49 cases of the new variant under investigation are in Yorkshire and the Humber, in Northern England, according to PHE. “There is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective,” it said.
On Monday, international holidays were allowed again, and pubs and restaurants were allowed to serve customers indoors. The government has said the final stage of reopening — which will be June 21 at the earliest, is dependent on the evolution of the virus. Government scientists are trying to determine how much more transmissible it is than the fast-spreading Kent variant that led to the country’s third lockdown in January.- Bloomberg