Indian and other 'variants of concern' behind a quarter of Covid cases in London

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    Indian and other 'variants of concern' behind a quarter of Covid cases in London

    Almost a quarter of all coronavirus transmission in London last month was driven by the Indian variant and other concerning mutant strains, data suggests.

    Scientists tracking the spread of mutant Covid strains estimated about 25 per cent of cases in the capital were variants other than the dominant Kent version by mid-April.

    At that time, the Indian variant was being imported into the UK via people returning from Covid-stricken India in a dash to beat the UK’s travel ban from Delhi.

    Researchers said the bulk of the new variant cases were likely the Indian B.1.617.2 strain, which has since spread rapidly across Britain and gained a foothold in parts of London and the North West.

    But they said surge testing for the South African variant in South London will have also made up a significant proportion of the cases. A smaller number of people tested positive for the Brazilian P.1 variant and other strains circulating less widely.

    It came as the Office for National Statistics’ weekly testing survey found national infections rose by 20 per cent last week, the first significant rise in cases since December. But rates are so low that the ONS said it did not have high confidence in its estimate.

    Imperial College London researchers drew on data from the UK’s variant-tracking laboratories, national infection surveys and the Government’s centralised testing programme to estimate how widespread variants were last month.

    They said it was likely that concerning variants now make up more than 25 per cent of Covid cases in the UK because of how rapidly the Indian strain is spreading. There have already been almost 3,500 cases of the mutant strain, according to Public Health England’s most recent count on May 19, which is five times more than at the start of this month.

    The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) believe the Indian strain is far more transmissible than the highly virulent Kent variant but the group has ‘increasing confidence’ vaccines work well against it.

    But MailOnline’s analysis of official numbers show just three of the 23 places in England where the Indian variant has become dominant are seeing clear rises in infection rates.

    Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, told this website that the mutant strain would not be the ‘disaster’ initially feared because it appeared to be confined to pockets of the country.

    For example, there were just 2,874 Covid infections across Britain yesterday – which was in line with the case rate for the past month – and 10 per cent of all infections were in Bolton, where the Indian variant is spreading fastest. 

    But the number of patients in hospital with the virus in the Greater Manchester town is creeping up and Bolton NHS Foundation Trust has had to open an extra Covid ward to cope with the increasing pressure. There are now 30 patients being treated for the disease after five more were admitted yesterday.

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the ‘majority’ of the patients were unvaccinated and among the few who had been given a jab, they had not been for their second appointment. Blackburn has also seen a spike in cases following surge testing in the area, as has Bedford, where a secondary school has resorted back to remote learning due to the outbreak. 

    It came after PHE revealed last night that it had detected another mutant Covid variant in Yorkshire and the Humber, which it has assigned as a ‘Variant Under Investigation’.

    The strain — temporarily named AV.1 — has been spotted 49 times so far and there is currently no evidence that it causes more severe disease or renders vaccines less effective. Its effect on transmission is not yet understood.   

    Some newspapers carried reports of the new strain being a ‘triple mutant’ variant because it appears to have three key mutations. But Cambridge University immunologist Brian Ferguson described that description as ‘meaningless’, pointing out that the Kent variant has 23 mutations which separate it from the original strain that emerged in China. 

    The variants currently in circulation in the UK: The second Indian variant (B.1.617.2) is causing the most concern as it appears far more transmissible than the dominant Kent strain. The South African variant is believed to be the least responsive to vaccines, reducing their ability to block infections by about 30 per cent

    The variants currently in circulation in the UK: The second Indian variant (B.1.617.2) is causing the most concern as it appears far more transmissible than the dominant Kent strain. The South African variant is believed to be the least responsive to vaccines, reducing their ability to block infections by about 30 per cent

    The variants currently in circulation in the UK: The second Indian variant (B.1.617.2) is causing the most concern as it appears far more transmissible than the dominant Kent strain. The South African variant is believed to be the least responsive to vaccines, reducing their ability to block infections by about 30 per cent

    Scientists tracking the spread of mutant Covid strains estimated about 25 per cent of cases in the capital were variants other than the dominant Kent version by mid-April. The three most common variants are the Indian variant (in purple), the South African variant (green) and a separate, less virulent version of the Indian variant is in blue. The scale goes from between 0 and 20 per cent of all total infections

    Scientists tracking the spread of mutant Covid strains estimated about 25 per cent of cases in the capital were variants other than the dominant Kent version by mid-April. The three most common variants are the Indian variant (in purple), the South African variant (green) and a separate, less virulent version of the Indian variant is in blue. The scale goes from between 0 and 20 per cent of all total infections

    Scientists tracking the spread of mutant Covid strains estimated about 25 per cent of cases in the capital were variants other than the dominant Kent version by mid-April. The three most common variants are the Indian variant (in purple), the South African variant (green) and a separate, less virulent version of the Indian variant is in blue. The scale goes from between 0 and 20 per cent of all total infections

    Imperial College London researchers drew on data from the UK's variant-tracking laboratories, national infection surveys and the Government's centralised testing programme. Domestic strain B.1.525 and B.1.1.318, as well as the Brazilian P.1 variant, are circulating in smaller numbers. The scale goes from 0 to 5 per cent

    Imperial College London researchers drew on data from the UK's variant-tracking laboratories, national infection surveys and the Government's centralised testing programme. Domestic strain B.1.525 and B.1.1.318, as well as the Brazilian P.1 variant, are circulating in smaller numbers. The scale goes from 0 to 5 per cent

     Imperial College London researchers drew on data from the UK’s variant-tracking laboratories, national infection surveys and the Government’s centralised testing programme. Domestic strain B.1.525 and B.1.1.318, as well as the Brazilian P.1 variant, are circulating in smaller numbers. The scale goes from 0 to 5 per cent

    MailOnline's analysis of official numbers show just three of the 23 places in England where the Indian variant has become dominant are seeing clear rises in infection rates - Bolton, Blackburn and Bedford

    MailOnline's analysis of official numbers show just three of the 23 places in England where the Indian variant has become dominant are seeing clear rises in infection rates - Bolton, Blackburn and Bedford

    MailOnline’s analysis of official numbers show just three of the 23 places in England where the Indian variant has become dominant are seeing clear rises in infection rates – Bolton, Blackburn and Bedford

    Positive test figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute – which cover only lab-analysed cases in the two weeks between April 25 and May 8 – reveal the mutant Indian strain made up 50 per cent or more of all samples in 23 parts of the country by last week. Bolton and Blackburn in the North West remain the worst-hit areas with almost 600 cases between them and the variant making up 81 per cent of infections

    Positive test figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute – which cover only lab-analysed cases in the two weeks between April 25 and May 8 – reveal the mutant Indian strain made up 50 per cent or more of all samples in 23 parts of the country by last week. Bolton and Blackburn in the North West remain the worst-hit areas with almost 600 cases between them and the variant making up 81 per cent of infections

    Positive test figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute – which cover only lab-analysed cases in the two weeks between April 25 and May 8 – reveal the mutant Indian strain made up 50 per cent or more of all samples in 23 parts of the country by last week. Bolton and Blackburn in the North West remain the worst-hit areas with almost 600 cases between them and the variant making up 81 per cent of infections

    In a promising sign that the vaccines are giving high protection, Covid infection rates are not rising in over-60s in any of the areas outside of Bolton where surge testing for the Indian strain is being carried out.

    Swabbing drives were launched in Blackburn, Bedford, Burnley, Hounslow, Kirklees, Leicester, North Tyneside, Glasgow and Moray in an attempt to stomp out the mutation. 

    Latest PHE figures published last night said the B.1.617.2 variant had been detected 3,424 times by May 19, up from 1,313 a week ago.  

    BEDFORD SCHOOL MOVES TO ONLINE LEARNING AMID INDIAN COVID VARIANT OUTBREAK 

    A secondary school in an Indian variant hotspot has moved back to online learning in an effort to curb the spread of the new strain.

    Bedford Academy said it made the move following ‘a significant number of cases of Covid-19 in Bedford and across our wider school community’. 

    A total of 350 children – a quarter of all the pupils at the school – are currently self-isolating following the outbreak.

    The academy said it had ‘been unable to control the rapid spread of the virus’ despite keeping masks in classrooms when the measure was scrapped nationally on Monday.

    Bedford currently has a Covid infection rate of 127.5 per 100,000 people making it the third worst-hit borough in England.

    Its rate rose by more than 80 per cent in the past week after 221 cases were recorded in the seven days to May 15. 

    The chief executive of the trust that runs the academy said in a statement, seen by the BBC: ‘Despite continuing with stringent cleaning procedures, the extended use of facemasks for both students and staff, regardless of national guidance, and ongoing education regarding hygiene, we have been unable to control the rapid spread of the virus.’

    The entire 1,200-capacity school will move to online learning from Monday May 24 for a week, before a decision will be made on whether to continue or not.

    The academy trust said all pupils would be provided with a laptop.

    Students who have exams next week will still be able to sit them in person at the school.

    Children of keyworkers and vulnerable pupils will continue going to school.  

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    The bulk of the cases have been in the North West of England — mostly in Bolton and Blackburn — and in London but PHE said clusters were cropping up across the country.  

    In England, 3,245 cases have now been confirmed, with another 136 in Scotland, 28 in Wales and 15 in Northern Ireland.  

    Boris Johnson said earlier in the week he was confident the lockdown-easing roadmap could go ahead because he had seen data which suggested the Indian strain is unlikely to be 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant, a figure quoted by SAGE last week. 

    There is still no consensus about how virulent the strain truly is or what impact it will have on the national epidemic, with firmer evidence not expected for at least another week.

    SAGE adviser Professor Andrew Hayward warned yesterday that he believed the UK was on the cusp of a third wave, saying it had him ‘very concerned’.

    Others, like Reading’s Dr Clarke, believe the vaccines are so effective against the strain that it should not overwhelm the NHS. 

    But Professor Hayward told the BBC yesterday: ‘It has spread fairly effectively first of all within households and now more broadly within communities, so I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country.

    ‘There’s still people who aren’t vaccinated in high-risk groups, the vaccine isn’t 100 per cent effective, and also even in the younger groups if you get many, many thousands or hundreds of thousands of cases, then you will expect a lot of hospitalisations and deaths to result from that. 

    ‘So that’s the threat. And it’s really over the next week or two we will see how much these outbreaks that at the moment are relatively localised, how much they become generalised across the population. And if that happens, that’s when we’re going to be much more worried.’

    Despite the warnings, ministers are believed to have gained confidence from the fact that, despite cases soaring in Bolton, they haven’t rocketed quite the same in other hotspots.

    Top SAGE adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said earlier this week that the virus was spreading fast in the Greater Manchester town due to its large South Asian community and multi-generational households, as opposed to the virus being extremely virulent. 

    He admitted the strain was likely to be more virulent than the Kent one, but that it would be much more ‘manageable’ if it turned out to be 20 or 30 per cent more transmissible, as opposed to 50 per cent.

    Ten per cent of all the infections in the UK yesterday were in Bolton, where the case rate has risen seven-fold in a month to more than 300 per 100,000 population – on par with the rate during the worst of the second wave.

    Blackburn and Bedford are the other two Indian variant hotspots were the overall Covid rate is also above 100 per 100,000. In the other hotspots cases are remaining flat in others and even falling in two — Sefton and South Northamptonshire.

    While the Indian variant is spreading rapidly in pockets of the country, 60 per cent of local authorities in England have yet to record a case (shown in grey). But it is likely the variant has spread even further than the map suggests because the data only goes up to May 8. Experts have said they expect it to overtake the Kent strain and become dominant in the coming weeks and months

    While the Indian variant is spreading rapidly in pockets of the country, 60 per cent of local authorities in England have yet to record a case (shown in grey). But it is likely the variant has spread even further than the map suggests because the data only goes up to May 8. Experts have said they expect it to overtake the Kent strain and become dominant in the coming weeks and months

    While the Indian variant is spreading rapidly in pockets of the country, 60 per cent of local authorities in England have yet to record a case (shown in grey). But it is likely the variant has spread even further than the map suggests because the data only goes up to May 8. Experts have said they expect it to overtake the Kent strain and become dominant in the coming weeks and months 

    It came as the Office for National Statistics found  England’s Covid outbreak may be on the rise amid surging cases of the Indian variant.

    ONS’ swabbing survey found almost 50,000 people were infected with the virus on any day last week, up 20 per cent on the previous seven-day spell.

    The national body, whose estimates are watched closely by ministers, warned that it was starting to see a ‘potential increase’ despite infections remaining low overall at just one in 1,110.

    Its head of analytics for the Covid infection survey Sarah Crofts said: ‘Although we have seen an early indication of a potential increase in England, rates remain low and it is too soon to say if this is the start of a trend.’ 

    But the figures came after data yesterday suggested the opposite, allaying fears the Indian variant was spiralling out of control.

    It came as the Office for National Statistics' weekly testing survey found national infections rose by 20 per cent last week, the first significant rise in cases since December. But case rates are so low that the ONS said it did not have high confidence in its estimate

    It came as the Office for National Statistics' weekly testing survey found national infections rose by 20 per cent last week, the first significant rise in cases since December. But case rates are so low that the ONS said it did not have high confidence in its estimate

    It came as the Office for National Statistics’ weekly testing survey found national infections rose by 20 per cent last week, the first significant rise in cases since December. But case rates are so low that the ONS said it did not have high confidence in its estimate

    Covid cases in England may be on the rise: ONS data shows almost 50,000 people were infected on any day last week in 20% rise 

    England’s Covid outbreak may be on the rise amid surging cases of the Indian variant, Government statisticians estimated today despite separate data suggesting the national outbreak is flat.

    Office for National Statistics random swabbing found almost 50,000 people were infected with the virus on any day last week, up 20 per cent on the previous seven-day spell.

    The national body, whose estimates are watched closely by ministers, warned that it was starting to see a ‘potential increase’ despite infections remaining low overall at just one in 1,110.

    Its head of analytics for the Covid infection survey Sarah Crofts said: ‘Although we have seen an early indication of a potential increase in England, rates remain low and it is too soon to say if this is the start of a trend.’ 

    But the figures came after data yesterday suggested the opposite, allaying fears the Indian variant was spiralling out of control.

    Public Health England found Covid cases had dropped in every region except the North West and in every age group except 5 to 9-year-olds. 

    Separate analysis from King’s College London found 2,270 Britons were catching symptomatic Covid last week, barely a change from the previous seven-day spell.

    PHE revealed there were 3,424 cases of the Indian variant identified yesterday, up 15 per cent in 24 hours. But Boris Johnson remains confident it should not derail plans for June 21 ‘freedom day’ because it is not thought to be as transmissible as first feared.

    Covid cases are only surging in three of 23 hotspots for the Indian variant — Bolton, Blackburn and Bedford — but are remaining flat in others and even falling in two — Sefton and South Northamptonshire. 

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    Public Health England found Covid cases had dropped in every region except the North West and in every age group except 5 to 9-year-olds. 

    Separate analysis from King’s College London found 2,270 Britons were catching symptomatic Covid last week, barely a change from the previous seven-day spell.

    Covid cases did not fall in any of England’s nine regions last week, results from the ONS’ infection survey suggest. 

    They may have risen slightly in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands, East of England and the South East, results showed, but still remained at very low levels.

    London and the North West — which are hotspots for the Indian variant — were both estimated to have seen their Covid cases remain flat last week.

    Across age groups Covid cases were only predicted to have risen among 35 to 49-year-olds and over-70s, but remained at very low levels with a positivity rate of 0.15 and 0.11 per cent respectively.

    They fell among 12 to 24-year-olds (down to 0.20 per cent), and 50 to 69-year-olds (down to 0.03 per cent) who have all been offered at least one dose of the Covid vaccine.

    It came as Britons were advised not to be ‘alarmed’ after a new coronavirus variant was identified in Yorkshire.

    Greg Fell, director of public health in Sheffield, said his team had been monitoring the new strain – named AV.1 – after PHE announced 49 cases.

    But Mr Fell stressed there is no evidence to suggest this strain is any more transmissible than other variants or that the vaccines do not work against it.

    Mr Fell issued a statement as Downing Street also said the emergence of this new variant will continue to be monitored.

    The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘There have been a number of variants throughout the pandemic and there will continue to be so.

    ‘There are three mutations of the B1617 (Indian) strain, as I think has been discussed previously, but as we do with all variants where we spot and identify them through our genomic sequencing programme, we will continue to monitor them and we will designate them as variants under investigation, and then variants of concern if we deem them to be of greater risk.

    ‘But again, as you’ve seen throughout the pandemic, that’s what we’ve done and we won’t hesitate to put in measures that we think are necessary to try and tackle the transmission of any variants.’

    Asked whether the discovery of the new variant would have an impact on the next stage of restrictions lifting on June 21, the spokesman said the five-week gap between measures relaxing would allow the variant to be monitored.

    He added: ‘As the Prime Minister has said, we will continue to look at all the statistical evidence and data, and we’ll set out our plans as soon as the data allows.’

    Mr Fell said in his statement: ‘We have been monitoring VUI-21MAY-01 and we’re managing this carefully as we do with all outbreaks across the city.

    ‘There is no evidence to suggest this strain is any more transmissible than other strains identified in the UK and across the world, or to suggest the vaccine doesn’t work against this strain.

    ‘Please don’t be alarmed, we want you to continue doing what you have been for the past year. Follow the guidance, continue to wash your hands regularly and wear a mask indoors.’

    Mr Fell said: ‘We work very closely with NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England on these matters to make sure all appropriate public health interventions are being carried out, including any additional contact tracing and targeted testing.

    ‘Where cases have been identified, additional follow-up of cases, testing of contacts and targeted case finding will be used to limit the spread of variants.

    He said: ‘If you have symptoms of Covid-19 you should seek to have a PCR test as soon as possible. If you are tested positive then you and your household must stay at home and not leave the house for any reason for 10 days.’

    Meanwhile, it was reported that the Prime Minister told the influential 1922 committee this week that he was confident the planned June 21 easing could still go ahead despite the Indian variant spreading.

    ‘I know there are anxieties about new variants,’ he said according to The Times. ‘But we can see nothing to suggest that we have to deviate from the roadmap.’ 

    ‘I know there are anxieties about new variants,’ he said. ‘But we can see nothing to suggest that we have to deviate from the roadmap.’

    He added earlier in the day that there was ‘increasing confidence’ jabs are highly effective against all variants, including B.1.617.2. His comments are bolstered by the fact the emergence of the strain has not yet led to an uptick in hospital admissions or deaths. 

    Scientists say the Indian variant may not be as transmissible as first feared because official data is beginning to hint the rise in cases of the mutant strain is slowing. 

    They say the spike could be down to the virus spreading in multi-generational households, and people rushing home from India after the country was placed on the ‘red list’. 

    Professor Carl Heneghan, the director of the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine at Oxford University, told the Telegraph: ‘How can it be the case that it is 40 per cent more transmissible when the numbers are falling off at the speed they are in India?

    ‘We could be looking at a founder effect (when a strain is repeatedly imported from another outbreak area) and where you’ve got a small number of people having a bigger impact.

    ‘India is actually looking more like the natural curve which happens in winter and has a high drop-off as opposed to flattening the curve.’

    India’s cases have dropped by 27 per cent in a week. They recorded 267,334 on Tuesday, down from 348,421 cases at the same time last week. 

    England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Van-Tam said last night: ‘We have a credible range that goes from a few percent more transmissible through to… 50 per cent more transmissible. I think most people feel it is going to be somewhere in the middle, rather than at the extremes of that band.’ 

    Top scientists handed information to ministers this week which put the situation ‘looking in better shape’, a senior Government official told Politico, although they were ‘obviously still waiting for more data’.

    A health official added: ‘We are learning more about the variant almost every hour and the mood music has definitely improved’.

    SAGE models warn Covid hospitalisations could spiral to more than 20,000 a day if the June easings went ahead and the strain was found to be 50 per cent more transmissible. 

    Government advisers also warned a variant that is 30 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant could pile more pressure on the NHS than it suffered during the first wave last spring. 

    Published at Fri, 21 May 2021 14:03:22 +0000

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