Boris Johnson is facing claims he failed to act over the Indian variant of coronavirus now sweeping through the UK.

B.1.617.2, first detected in India, is worrying scientists who believe it transmits even more easily than the Kent strain of Covid.

It has forced the PM to warn he might miss his target to lift all social distancing laws from June 21.

Officials are now considering pushing back the final stage of the roadmap or even imposing local lockdown tiers, it’s reported.

Surge testing is under way in England’s hotspots as older people have their vaccine second doses brought forward.

The question now on many people’s minds is - did the government act fast enough?

The question now on many people’s minds is - did the government act fast enough?
The question now on many people’s minds is - did the government act fast enough?

It’s now 55 days since India’s health ministry warned about a so-called ‘double mutant’ variant on March 24.

From then, it would be another 31 days before India was put on the UK’s ‘red list’ for foreign travel on April 23.

That travel ban also came 22 days after B.1.617 - closely linked to the variant - was first deemed “under investigation” in England.

Matt Hancock this week insisted it’s “completely wrong” to suggest the UK government was too slow to act.

Matt Hancock has insisted he acted as fast as he could
Matt Hancock has insisted he acted as fast as he could

“It misrepresents the evidence on which you can take these decisions,” he told Sky News.

“This variant was notified as a variant under investigation after we’d already put India on the red list.”

But that’s not quite the whole story - and Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper claimed: “This was not inevitable.

“It is just the latest in a long list of examples where the Government was too slow to act at the border.”

The story is complicated and involves multiple strains, which in hindsight we now know first emerged in October 2020.

So who’s right? We take you through the timeline of the latest twist in Covid to explain.

Early February

After falling since November, Covid cases in India begin rising - slowly at first.

The weekly number of new cases rises from 78,577 around February 8 to 86,711 around February 15.

That then rises again to 105,080 around February 22, according to the World Health Organisation.

February 22

This is date we now know, with hindsight, that the B.1.617 variant of coronavirus was first detected in the UK.

It was detected in the US a day later. The earliest recorded instance of it in the world is currently October 2020.

Early March

Cases in India begin to rocket.

From a weekly rate of 114,000 or so cases round March 1, they reach 240,082 around March 15 and 372,494 around March 22.

March 19

School closures and shopping restrictions loom as new cases in India see the highest daily increase in more than three months.

At this point India is the world’s third worst affected country after the United States and Brazil.

“It’s a proper second wave,” says Amit Thadhani, medical director of Niramaya Hospitals in Mumbai suburb Panvel.

March 24

India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issues a statement detailing the discovery of a “double mutant variant”.

“These mutations have been found in about 15-20% of samples and do not match any previously catalogued Variants of Concern,” the statement warns.

It adds not enough variant cases have yet been found to say firmly that the variant is responsible for steep rises in case numbers.

Reuters will later report claims that India's health ministry sat on this statement for two weeks and the words "high concern" were removed.

March 26

India’s daily count of new Covid cases rises above 50,000 for the first time since November. Mumbai confirms plans to raise hospital bed capacity from 13,773 to 21,000, while the Rajasthan government restricts celebrations of Holi and Shab-e-Barat.

Relatives, friends and graveyard workers prepare to lower the body of a Covid-19 victim during a burial in New Delhi in late April
Relatives, friends and graveyard workers prepare to lower the body of a Covid-19 victim during a burial in New Delhi in late April

March 30

The British Medical Journal publishes an article warning India’s cases have “taken a sharp upward turn since March”.

The article adds: “Globally, India has had the third highest number of confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19 after Brazil and the US. As of 29 March, India had 12 million cases and 162 000 deaths from the disease.”

April 1

Public Health England declares B.1.617.1 - closely related to the more worrying B.1.617.2 - a “variant under investigation”.

Officials will later say B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3 are under surveillance but not yet variants under formal investigation.

Health workers tend to coronavirus positive patients inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a care centre in New Delhi, in late April
Health workers tend to coronavirus positive patients inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a care centre in New Delhi, in late April

April 2

The UK announces four countries, including India’s neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh, will join the red list for foreign travel.

This means arrivals must quarantine in £1,750-a-head hotels rather than at home. But India remains off the list.

Matt Hancock will later defend this decision, saying: “The truth is that when we put Pakistan and Bangladesh on the red list, positivity among those arriving from those countries was three times higher than it was among those arriving from India.”

But that is not what NHS Test and Trace data shows.

That data says Covid test positivity was 5% for travellers from India on March 25-April 7 - compared to 6% for Pakistan and 4% for Bangladesh.

By this time India’s overall rate of new cases has shot from a low of around 10,000 a day to 81,000 a day.

April 6

Questions begin raging about Boris Johnson ’s planned visit to India later in April, as daily new cases pass 100,000.

Despite the mounting fears, Downing Street say the trip will go ahead while the situation is “kept under review”.

The trip will later be scaled back but will only be scrapped altogether on April 19.

April 9

The travel ban on Bangaldesh and Pakistan takes effect at 4am, with India still off the red list.

By this point, as NHS Test and Trace data will later show, more than half of Covid-positive people who flew in from India were carrying variants of some kind.

Between March 25 and April 7, 3,391 travellers who flew from India to England were tested for Covid.

Of the 172 who tested positive, around half (52%) were thought to have variants of concern or variants under investigation.

By comparison, 7,521 people flew to England from Pakistan and 469 tested positive in the same period.

But only four variant cases were found - a much lower rate than India of just 2%.

Altogether, scientists found 127 variant cases in passengers from India to England between March 25 and April 24.

This figure does not match up with percentages, because only some cases are sequenced to check for new variants, not all.

April 15

The B.1.617 variant appears on official statistics of cases in the UK for the first time, with 77 detected.

At this point it is labelled a “variant under investigation” and not split into its sub-families, 1, 2 and 3, on the government website.

Days earlier, the weekly case rate in India has passed 1.4million, with media reports suggesting bodies are piling up at crematoria waiting to be dealt with.

Check-in desks at Heathrow Airport (pictured May 17, when travel for holidays restarted)
Check-in desks at Heathrow Airport (pictured May 17, when travel for holidays restarted)

April 16

By this point Boris Johnson’s India visit has been scaled back to a day, but officials are insisting it will still go ahead.

A No10 source strongly denies suggestions India is being omitted from the red list to avoid jeopardising trade talks.

They describe the claim as “total and utter bull***t”.

While this is going on, thousands of people continued to fly in from India to England without having to quarantine in a hotel.

Between April 8 and April 24, 3,212 travellers will be tested after flying from India to England.

Of those, 244 test positive for Covid-19 - up from 172 in the previous two-week period.

And 61% of those are thought to have variants under investigation or of concern.

April 19

The UK faces the reckoning over the variant as the number of UK cases rises from 77 to 103.

Downing Street announce Boris Johnson will no longer visit India while Matt Hancock announces a travel ban.

The Health Secretary says India will be placed on the red list after all - but only four days later, on Friday 23 April at 4am.

A government statement admits: “There is a high volume of travel between India and the UK.”

But Mr Hancock insists the decision is being taken on a “precautionary basis”, and expert Prof Sharon Peacock says it’s still not known if the B.1.617 variant family is the “main driver” for India’s new wave.

Passengers at Heathrow Airport on May 17
Passengers at Heathrow Airport on May 17

April 22

New data is published showing the number of cases of B.1.617 in the UK has risen again to 132.

April 23

Travel ban from India takes effect. All arrivals must now quarantine in a hotel rather than in their own homes.

April 27

At the same time, B.1.617.2 - now the ‘India strain’ we refer to - is escalated to become a “variant under investigation”.

Matt Hancock will later use this fact to defend his approach, saying the strain wasn’t even being investigated when he banned travel.

Meanwhile the weekly case rate in India hits 2.6million.

May 7

Barely a week after being put under investigation, B.1.617.2 is reclassified as a “variant of concern”.

It comes as startling new figures show the number of Indian variant cases in the UK has risen from 202 to 520.

Surge testing begins in Bolton, which will later be identified as a hotspot for the new strain.

Meanwhile MPs on the all-party coronavirus group attack the government’s border measures, saying passengers from high- and low-risk countries are being bunched together in arrival hall queues.

People queueing for vaccines in hotspot area Bolton
People queueing for vaccines in hotspot area Bolton

May 10

Despite the rising threat, Boris Johnson boasts “it looks to me” like he’ll be able to axe social distancing from June 21.

He adds: “The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us. The roadmap remains on track.”

By this point, according to EU figures, some 676 cases of the new variant have been detected in the UK.

That compares to 192 in the US, 91 in Singapore, 58 in Australia, 31 in Germany, 20 in Japan and 18 in Denmark.

May 11

Four days after the UK, the World Health Organisation classifies the Indian strain as a variant of concern.

It joins those from Kent (UK), South Africa and Brazil.

"We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level," Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing. "There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility."

A electronic board reading 'Covid Vaccination Available No Need To Book' is seen in Bolton
A electronic board reading 'Covid Vaccination Available No Need To Book' is seen in Bolton

May 13

It emerges there are 1,313 cases of the variant in the UK - up from just 520 the week before.

Surge testing is launched in Formby as questions begin to swirl about whether the roadmap can proceed as planned.

May 14

Days after he expressed his confidence, Boris Johnson tells the nation the variant “could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June."

That could mean the end to social distancing and reopenings of places like nightclubs are delayed.

He continues: "I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our road map.” But he adds: “If the variant is significantly more transmissible we'll have to face some hard choices."

The PM says a huge step in England’s unlocking, with groups of six allowed to meet indoors and hug, can go ahead from Monday.

May 17

Matt Hancock announces the number of Indian variant cases in the UK has risen by 1,000 in four days to 2,323, in 86 council areas.

The Health Secretary defends his actions, saying: “We put India on the red list before countries such as Germany and Canada stopped flights from India.”

Downing Street says updates on when full-sized weddings can resume and social distancing can end may now be delayed.

Boris Johnson had suggested they would take place around May 24 and May 31 respectively, ahead of a June 21 launch date.

But the PM’s spokesman says these updates may need to wait longer until more is known about the transmissibility of the variant.

Meanwhile, No10 refuses calls from areas like Bolton, Blackburn and parts of London to give "surge" vaccinations to people in their 20s and early 30s who've not had one dose yet.