India variant could seriously disrupt lifting of lockdown, says Boris Johnson | Coronavirus | The Guardian
India variant could seriously disrupt lifting of lockdown, says Boris Johnson
The final stage of the lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions across England could face “serious disruption” due to the India variant, the prime minister has warned, as he announced plans to accelerate the vaccine programme to curb its spread.Boris Johnson said the gap between the first and second Covid jab would be cut from 12 weeks to eight for all over-50s and the clinically vulnerable, admitting: “The race between our vaccine programme and the virus may be about to become a great deal tighter.”
He announced that the army would be deployed to two variant hotspots – Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen – to help with vaccinations, and urged residents in those areas to “think twice” before taking advantages of the freedoms allowed again from Monday.
Johnson said the India variant appeared to be “more transmissible” than the dominant strain in the UK, which originated in Kent, but that it was not yet clear by how much. If it is significantly more, then, he warned, “we’re likely to face some hard choices”. Asked whether the lockdown easing would have to be paused during a press conference, he added: “The truth is, we cannot say for certain … The situation is very different from last year, we are in the throes of an incredible vaccine rollout … We just have to wait and see … We rule nothing out.”The PM’s words came as new documents released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) revealed just how worried scientists are about the variant. Modelling by Sage suggested it was “a realistic possibility” that it could be up to 50% more transmissible than the Kent variant.If that was the case, they said, progressing to stage 3 of the road map – due on Monday – would “lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks)”. The variant’s spread will raise questions about perceived government delays in adding India to the “red list” of countries from which arrivals have to quarantine in hotels.Johnson’s announcement came following calls from councils in Lancashire and Greater Manchester to let them roll out vaccines to all over-18s in some variant hotspots, including Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.