UK authorities said Friday they are considering changing vaccination protocols and reintroducing local lockdowns to curb the spread of a variant of coronavirus first discovered in India, a warning sign for countries that are flagging Limitations, although their own vaccination campaigns are incomplete.
The number of cases with the variant known as B.1.617 rose from 520 last week to 1,313 this week in the UK, according to official statistics.
To what extent the variant has spread worldwide is unclear, since most countries lack the facilities for genomic monitoring used in England.
This monitoring ability has made it possible for health officials The UK recognizes the rise of worrying variants faster than other nations and offers some kind of early warning system as a variant that can be seen in one nation almost always shows up in others.
Most of the cases discovered in the UK are in the north-west of England. The focus was on Bolton, a town of nearly 200,000 that has one of the highest infection rates in the country and where health officials have warned of widespread community transmission of the variant. Some cases have also been reported in London.
National restrictions in England are due to be relaxed on Monday, with indoor dining and entertainment returning. However, officials have indicated that these plans could be in jeopardy.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday that the reopening would take place next week, but he said he was “concerned” about the new variant. “There may be things that we have to do locally,” he added.
Nadhim Zahawi, the government minister responsible for vaccinations, told the BBC on Friday morning: “We will not take anything off the table.”
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s coronavirus response technical director, said a study of a limited number of patients that had not yet been peer-reviewed suggested that antibodies from vaccines or other variant infections may not be entirely are present as effective against B.1.617. However, the agency said vaccines would likely remain strong enough to protect against serious illness and death.
British officials said the variant was more contagious than the variant discovered last year in Kent, southeast of London, which swept Britain in winter, forcing the country into one of the world’s longest national lockdowns. The British variant has now been found in countries around the world.
The variant, first discovered in India, was found in virus samples from 44 countries, the WHO announced this week.
The UN agency has classified variant B.1.617 as a variant that gives cause for concern.
Christina Pagel, a member of a group of scholars advising the government known as SAGE, said postponing the reopening next week would avoid “risking more uncertainty, more damaging closings and a longer recovery from a worse situation”.
“We have to learn from previous experiences,” said Dr. Pagel, Director of Clinical Operational Research at University College London, on Twitter.
The UK briefly reopened its economy late last year, then abruptly imposed new restrictions that stayed in place for months as it battled a deadly wave of infections.
In order to offer at least partial protection to as many people as possible as quickly as possible, In the UK, injections were distributed between doses for two-step coronavirus vaccines for up to 12 weeks after the first vaccines were approved in December. That was much longer than the three or four week interval employed in most other countries.
The rapid rollout saved at least 11,700 lives and prevented 33,000 people from becoming seriously ill in England. This is based on research published by Public Health England on Friday.
However, the campaign has slowed since last month due to supply shortages and the need to distribute second doses. The number of daily first doses averaged 113,000 last month, well below the average of 350,000 daily doses administered in March.
Currently, only people over the age of 38 can be vaccinated.
Officials suggested on Friday that the spread of variant B.1.617 could force a change in strategy: in areas where the variant spreads, they could increase the second dose to provide greater protection and allow younger people in – currently only people who are at least 38 years old can be vaccinated – vaccinated in households with several generations.
However, it was unclear whether the country had the vaccine supplies to move forward quickly.
Mr Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said the UK would “adjust the vaccination program in line with clinical recommendations”. He also urged people to regularly use free PCR tests, which have been available since last month, and “isolate, isolate, isolate” if they test positive for the coronavirus.