The health secretary is to make a statement to MPs in the wake of fears the Indian variant of coronavirus could delay the roadmap out of lockdown.

Matt Hancock is to speak in the House of Commons at 3.30pm this afternoon over concerns about the new ‘double mutant’ strain, which has now spread to the UK.

The mutation has not yet been listed as a ‘variant of concern’, but if it is this could delay the easing of lockdown as outlined in Boris Johnson’s four key tests which must be met.

A reported 160 cases have now been recorded across the UK – an increase from the 77 found last week – and have not all yet been linked to travelling abroad.

It comes as prime minister Boris Johnson’s planned trip to India was cancelled this morning after infections in the Asian country are starting to soar.



Downing Street issued a joint statement from the British and Indian governments which said: ‘In the light of the current coronavirus situation, prime minister Boris Johnson will not be able to travel to India next week.

‘Instead, prime ministers Modi and Johnson will speak later this month to agree and launch their ambitious plans for the future partnership between the UK and India.

‘They will remain in regular contact beyond this, and look forward to meeting in person later this year.’

Since last week scientists have been investigating the strain to see whether it spreads more easily and if current vaccines work on it.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, warned variants of Covid-19 ‘do pose a threat’ to the unlocking of the country.

‘I am concerned about all the variants. Don’t get me wrong, I think our road map is going well and at the moment, in this country, we are doing rather well, enjoying unlocking,’ he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

‘But out there, there is the Indian variant, the South African, Brazilian etc, and they do pose a threat.’

He suggested ‘vulnerable people’ could be caught out by the new Indian strain – but said it is a ‘variant under investigation’ rather than ‘variant of concern’ at the moment.

‘At the moment, we are still vulnerable, and some people in our population are still vulnerable – what I mean by that is the Indian variant, for example, certainly has a mutation like the ones that evade the best neutralising antibodies,’ Professor Altmann added.

‘What that means is, if you have a population where at least half of us have had zero or one dose of vaccine, some won’t have made a very good response to the vaccine, because perhaps they are very old or obese or unwell, we still have a very large vulnerable population who can still be caught out by variants like this.



‘At the moment, this particular variant is called a variant under investigation, not a variant of concern because it hasn’t been escalated to that level yet.

‘My assumption from everything I’ve seen is that it will become a variant of concern.

‘When it becomes a variant of concern, I’d be quite surprised if India wasn’t on the red list.’

The Government is now facing pressure for India to be put on the UK’s ‘red list’ of countries with the strictest travel rules.

But just yesterday environment secretary George Eustice insisted adding India was ‘under regular review’, saying Mr Johnson’s trip should go ahead before today’s U-turn.

‘There are quite a lot of robust tests and checks for anybody coming into the country,’ Mr Eustice said.

‘But, look, we keep this under regular review — we take the advice of the scientific experts on this.

‘If the advice is we should change that and move to the red list, we would.’

India reported 261,500 new cases of coronavirus in one day, which is a new record for the country.

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