A patient and paramedic outside ambulance at the Royal London Hospital, London during England’s third national lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Picture date: Thursday January 21, 2021.

Yui Mok – PA Pictures | PA pictures | Getty Images

LONDON – The variant of coronavirus, which first appeared in India, could become the dominant strain of the virus in the UK in a matter of days, scientists have warned.

Great Britain is noticing a rapid spread of the Covid variant “B.1.617”, which first appeared in India last October and is considered to be responsible for a wave of infections that has hit the South Asian nation in recent months.

B.1.617 has three sublines, each with slightly different mutations, according to the World Health Organization. Variant B.1.617 was named a “variant of concern” by the WHO last week and on May 7 the UK named subline B.1.617.2 a variant of concern. Since then, the UK has seen almost double cases caused by the variant.

On Monday, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock informed UK lawmakers that 2,323 cases of variant B.1.617.2 had been confirmed in the UK, up from 1,313 last Thursday. He said 483 of those cases were spotted in coronavirus outbreaks in the northern English cities of Bolton and Blackburn, where he said it has become the dominant burden as cases there doubled in the past week and “increased across all age groups.” “- although hospital stays were stable. There are now 86 local authorities with five or more confirmed cases, Hancock added.

The UK has introduced “surge vaccinations” in the hardest hit areas to protect as many people as possible from the virus and variant, which initial evidence suggests is more transmissible.

Early data shows that the Covid vaccines currently in use are still effective against the new variant, a government official said on Monday, although there is now a race to vaccinate younger age groups and anyone who has not previously accepted the vaccine.

There are already concerns within the government that the UK’s target date for ending all restrictions on social contact, June 21, may be reconsidered amid the proliferation of the new variant.

Experts are sounding the alarm that it is likely that the variant is already anchored. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the Guardian newspaper on Monday that the India variant could overtake a more transmissible variant of Covid (known as B.1.1.7)) This occurred in the UK last fall and has become a dominant strain in the country and other parts of the world.

“There is no evidence that the recent rapid increase in the B.1.617.2 variant shows any signs of slowing,” he told the newspaper. “This variant will overtake (the Kent variant) and become the dominant variant in the UK for the next few days if it has not already done so.”

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, told CNBC Tuesday that vaccines looked like vaccines would prevent infection with the Indian variant, but it is now difficult to stop the spread.

“It is very difficult to contain these more transmissible variants once they are in the world,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe”. “What we have in the UK right now is obviously a race between the virus and the vaccinations.”

How serious is it

That the variant poses potential problems for the UK, a country with a high Covid vaccination rate (nearly 70% of the adult population had at least one dose of vaccine and nearly 40% had two doses), is not a good sign for other countries that are continuing their vaccination programs lag behind, especially in Europe.

The WHO has said that the Indian variant has been discovered in all European countries. By May 11, variant B.1.617 had been discovered in 44 countries in all six WHO regions, the organization announced in its last weekly update.

A panel of experts noted in the British Medical Journal on Monday that “there are many things we know and many things we do not know about variant B.1.617.2” but that “we know enough to say that this is new variant could be very serious. “

“We know that it is spreading rapidly (doubling roughly every week in the UK and nearly tripling from 520 to 1,313 cases last week) that it is establishing itself in a number of areas across the country,” wrote Dr. Stephen Reicher of the University of St. Andrews and Dr. Susan Michie and Dr. Christina Pagel from University College London, who are experts in advisory groups (SAGE and Independent SAGE) that provide scientific advice to the government.

“Compared to the dominant variant B.1.1.7, we know that B.1.617.2 is very likely to be more transmissible and possibly better transmitted between people who are fully vaccinated,” they added.

“We don’t yet know how much of the faster transmission is due to the characteristics of the variant itself as opposed to the characteristics of the infected, and … we do not yet know if and to what extent the new variant undermines the ability of vaccines to protect us from infection, hospitalization and death, or prevent us from passing infections on to others, “they added.

They found that SAGE’s worst-case scenario modeling suggests that if B.1.617.2 were 40-50% more transferable than variant B.1.1.7, it would lead to an increase in hospital admissions that could be worse than January 2021, “and also escapes The more vaccines, the higher the level could be.”

For now, however, they warned that “we don’t know enough to know exactly how serious it would be if it became the dominant line in the UK”.