Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is “anxious” about an uptick in UK coronavirus cases despite the country’s success at rolling out vaccines.
It’s suspected an infectious variant first identified in India could be behind the unexpected jump.
A scientist advising the UK Government has cautioned people not to “panic,” especially those who have been vaccinated.
For months, cases in the UK have tumbled due to a combination of a successful vaccination program and a long lockdown which is gradually being wound back.
But in the past few weeks, cases have begun to increase again. Some English towns have seen a doubling of new infections in a week.
Nationally, the seven day moving average of cases, which had been expected to fall beneath 2000 per day, has crept up to 2300 daily new infections.
Britain has been one of the worst affected countries during the pandemic. The UK’s 4 million cases is the seventh highest globally. Almost 130,000 people have died.
During the height of its second wave, more than 60,000 people in a single day were confirmed has having contracted the virus.
The country has also had one of the world’s most widespread vaccination programs. Of the country’s 67 million people, 36 million (or more than half) have received at least one shot. Almost 19 million have had both shots of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine.
Public Health England has said the vaccination program has saved 11,700 lives and prevented 33,000 people from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.
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Surge in cases in several towns across Britain
However, there are concerns the new surge in cases could be fuelled by the B1.617.2 variant of the virus, first detected in India. The variant is thought to be more transmissible but it is not known if it leads to a more serious illness. Hospitalisations have not yet increased.
Bolton and Blackburn, two towns close to Manchester in north-west England, have reported rising cases.
Blackburn has gone from less than 10 daily cases a month ago to a seven day average of 21 cases. In the past week, cases in Bolton have gone up by 97 per cent.
Bedford, South Northamptonshire and suburban areas west of Nottingham in the English East Midlands have also seen a jump in cases. As has Scotland’s largest city of Glasgow.
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Indian strain a “variant of concern”
Overall cases of the B1.617.2 variant have doubled in the UK in a week. It’s been speculated that it could become the dominant strain in the country, overtaking the homegrown so-called “Kent” variant.
“It is a variant of concern, we are anxious about it,” Mr Johnson said.
He said “surge testing” could be introduced in some towns. This is where mobile testing units are set up and whole streets are able to be tested at once.
The Prime Minister didn’t rule out introducing local lockdowns in areas with spiking cases. Health authorities are also looking at bringing forward second doses of jabs to people in affected areas.
“If we have to do other things, then of course the public would want us to rule nothing out. We have always been clear we would be led by the data.”
Mr Johnson said there would be no change to a loosening of coronavirus restrictions on Monday, which will enable people to drink and eat inside and up to six people to meet indoors.
But a planned axing of all remaining restrictions in June may have to wait for further medical advice.
Only mild illness likely
A scientist advising the government has cautioned against overreacting to the rise in cases.
Professor Robert Dingwall told the BBC that those who had been vaccinated “have only a very low risk of infection” and even then it was likely to be a mild form of the illness.
“We need to stop panicking about every new variant that comes along.
“The consequence of this would be a greater number of mild illnesses with little risk of a surge in hospitalisations or deaths,” he said.
Brits can now travel abroad again but only to a small number of countries. India is not part of that list. Some politicians have been critical of the UK Government for being sluggish in mandating that travellers returning from India has to undergo hotel quarantine.