Lockdown easing may need to be reversed if variant spreads rapidly – expert

NHS Test and Trace is providing additional testing following the emergence of a cluster in the capital.

Coronavirus lockdown
Coronavirus lockdown

Rapid spread of coronavirus variants could necessitate the reimposition of lockdown measures, a scientist advising the Government said.

Professor Peter Openshaw said his fellow scientists were “very concerned” after a cluster of cases of the South African coronavirus variant were found in London.

Some 44 confirmed cases of the variant have been found in Lambeth and Wandsworth, with a further 30 probable cases identified, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Surge testing for those who live, work or travel through those areas is being made available, while NHS Test and Trace is providing additional testing in an area of Southwark where a case linked to the other cluster has been identified.

Prof Openshaw, a member of the Covid-19 clinical information network, told BBC2’s Newsnight: “A lot of we scientists are very concerned about what’s happening at the moment.

“I think we’re all just hoping that the staged reduction in lockdown is going to be ok. It is being done reasonably cautiously but I think this is not good news.

“If we get rapid spread of the South African or other more resistant variants, it may well be that we are going to have to put the reductions of lockdown into reverse.”

Easing the lockdown in England
Easing the lockdown in England (PA Graphics)

According to Government figures, there have been 533 genomically confirmed cases of the South African variant in the UK and another 11 probable cases.

Lockdown was further eased in England on Monday, with non-essential retail and pub beer gardens permitted to open, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there were no plans at present to change the road map out of lockdown.

The next “waymarks” on England’s plan to ease restrictions are due on May 17 and June 21.

Meanwhile, researchers are aiming to recruit more than 1,000 people who have already had one Covid vaccine to test the efficacy of mixing different types of jab.

The Com-Cov2 trial, which is being led by the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, will look at how well people’s immune systems respond when the booster dose is a different type to their first vaccination and will now be extended to include the Moderna and Novavax vaccines.

People aged over 50 who have had their first dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer shot can take part and will be given a second dose of either the same jab or the Moderna or Novavax treatments.

In other developments:

– The number of vaccine doses administered in the UK has passed 40 million, of which nearly eight million are second doses.

– People aged 45 and over in England are being invited to make appointments for their vaccination.

– The number of positive Covid-19 tests was 2,472 and the Government said a further 23 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 127,123.

– People over 16 in households of adults with a weakened immune system are to be prioritised for a jab in Wales, the devolved Government said.

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