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Johnson: India COVID-19 variant must be handled carefully


Johnson: India COVID-19 variant must be handled carefully
A coronavirus variant first identified in India is being investigated by scientists across the world. (BBC)

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London – Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the government needs to carefully handle outbreaks of the India variant of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United Kingdom.

It comes as Public Health England (PHE) said one version of it had been elevated to a “variant of concern”.

B.1.617.2 appears to be spreading more quickly than two other identified subtypes of the Indian variant.

Scientists believe it is at least as transmissible as the variant first detected in Kent last year.

Boris Johnson said the government needs to think “very carefully” about the public health response.

“We’re doing a huge amount, obviously, to make sure that when we do find outbreaks of the Indian variant that we do surge testing, that we do door-to-door testing,” he said.

PHE said there was currently “insufficient evidence” to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or make current vaccines any less effective.

Scientists are now carrying out laboratory testing to better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus.

Variant of concern

Viruses mutate all the time, producing different versions of themselves. Most of these mutations are insignificant – and some may even make the virus less dangerous – but others can make it more contagious and harder to vaccinate against.

The original India variant – officially known as B.1.617 – was first detected in October.

That version has now been re-characterised as three different subtypes, all with slightly different genetic mutations.

The United Kingdom has seen a sharp increase in one type in particular, known as B.1.617.2, which now makes up the majority of all Indian variant cases and appears to be growing faster than other versions.

Cases have increased from 202 to 520 in the last week, with most detected in London and the North West of England.

Almost half were related to travel or contact with a traveller but there have been examples of community transmission linked to work and religious gatherings.

In one cluster at a care home, 14 elderly residents who had all been vaccinated, were infected with the variant, a source told the BBC.

A number needed hospital treatment, but not for severe disease, and it is thought all have now recovered.

All current vaccines are thought to offer some degree of protection against variants but can never completely stop all infections, especially among vulnerable or elderly people. (BBC)