Great Britain

Hancock outlines UK plan to avoid 'explosion' in Indian variant cases amid roadmap fears

Health Secretary Matt Hancock rejected suggestions from Sky News host Sophy Ridge that the Government could be forced to "row back" on its roadmap out of lockdown. Mr Hancock said Britons needed to be "cautious and vigilant" in order to avoid an "explosion in cases" of the Indian variant of the coronavirus. He admitted that the variant had become "the dominant strain in some parts of the country, including in Bolton and Blackburn".

He said: "We can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with this pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously.

"But we need to be vigilant to the spread of the disease.

"Because this variant can spread even faster than the Kent variant it means if it gets out of hand we will have very, very large number of cases.

"We do need to make sure we don't get that explosion in cases. We need to be cautious, to be vigilant."

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He insisted: "Our goal remains to take a cautious and irreversible approach."

Mr Hancock told Sky News that the UK had seen just over 1300 cases of the Indian variant in the UK.

He revealed that "very early data" from the labs suggest the vaccine is effective against the variant.

However, he urged caution, adding: "The vaccine protection is very high but it is not absolute."

The Health Secretary said: "If the Indian variant is 50 percent more transmissible, we have a problem.

"We are in a race between the vaccination programme and the virus and this new variant has given this virus some extra legs in this race, but we have a high degree of confidence."

This comes amid growing concern of the spread of the Indian variant of COVID-19 as England, Scotland and Wales press ahead with relaxing restrictions.

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On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the B.1.617.2 Indian variant could pose "serious disruption" to the final stage of lockdown easing in England on 21 June.

On Saturday, the British Medical Association said it had serious concerns about the decision to continue with the easing of lockdown restrictions.

The BMA's Dr Richard Jarvis said: "It is a real worry that when further measures lift on 17 May, the majority of younger people, who are often highly socially mobile and could therefore be most at risk of a more infectious strain, are not yet vaccinated."

Express.co.uk readers are split on the issue according to a recent survey, though a small majority back a delay to reopening.

The poll found that many readers would urge Boris Johnson to "put the brakes" on the UK's coronavirus reopening following a surge in the Indian variant.

In total 5,154 readers answered the question “As Indian variant surges, should Boris put breaks on June 21 reopening?”

Some 2,846 (53 percent) argued he should whilst 2,221 (46 percent) disagreed.

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