The emergence of the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant has led some scientists to call for the reopening to be delayed.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the country will speed up its COVID-19 vaccination program to try to contain a rapidly spreading variant first identified in India that could derail a reopening of the economy.
The UK has launched one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world, giving a first injection to almost 70% of the adult population and a second to 36%, helping to reduce infection rates and death.
“So it’s more important than ever that people get the extra protection from a second dose,” he said at a press conference on Friday.
“So, following the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, we will be accelerating the remaining second doses to the over-50s and clinically vulnerable people across the country, so those doses come only eight weeks later.” the first dose, ”he said.
The emergence of variant B.1.617.2 in parts of northern England and London has prompted some scientists to call for the reopening to be delayed and to rethink how quickly the vaccine will roll out.
“I think we should trust our vaccines to protect the public while monitoring the situation very closely, as the race between our vaccination schedule and the virus may be about to get much tighter,” he said. Johnson said at a press conference.
Spreading the variant could disrupt Britain’s progress out of lockdown, making it more difficult to move to the final stage of a phased reopening of the economy in June.
“It’s very clear now that we’re going to have to live with this new variant of the virus for a while, so let’s work together and use caution and common sense,” he said.
Johnson aimed to lift all restrictions on June 21, after allowing Britons from Monday to kiss again, meet in small groups indoors and travel abroad.
Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said there was now confidence that B.1.617.2 was more transmissible than the variant first discovered in Kent which fueled the second wave of infections in England. He said B.1.617.2 could come to dominate in Britain.
Public Health England said on Thursday there had been 1,313 cases of B.1.617.2 in England in a week, more than double the figure from the previous week, with four confirmed deaths.
Whitty has said so far that there has been no significant increase in hospitalizations from the variant, which could be due to more people having been vaccinated.
But Johnson and Whitty both said it was still early days and scientists would need to look at the data over the next two or three weeks to really see the effects of the variant.
The UK put India on a travel ‘red list’ in April, meaning all arrivals from India – now suffer from most severe wave of COVID-19 – expected to pay to self-quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Media at the time suggested that because the quarantine requirement was announced four days in advance, many people had sought to steal in advance. The UK has a large South Asian community.
Even with new variants, the government will likely want to avoid repeating the regional borders used last year, which ultimately failed to prevent two more national lockdowns.
Nationally, infections are still low and have fallen for a fifth straight week in England, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday.