Indian Covid variant could ‘scupper’ roadmap out of lockdown, scientist warns

A woman administers a Covid-testing swab in her mouth Credit: PA

The Indian coronavirus mutation could “scupper” the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown, a scientist has warned.

The warning came despite the number of Covid-19 infections in the UK falling to the lowest level since autumn.

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, has called for Britain to be wary of a third wave after 77 cases of the Indian Covid strain was found in the country.

Public Health England (PHE) reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant, which was first discovered in India, had been found. A further four cases were identified in Scotland.

Prof Altmann said the discovery of the Indian variant in the UK should warrant India being placed on the UK's "red list" so all those arriving into the UK from India are required to quarantine in a hotel.

Despite the warnings, Downing Street has said Boris Johnson’s trip to India "is still happening later this month". But the trip will be "slightly shorter" than the initial four-day planned trip as most of the meetings will take place in a day.

The trip will be Mr Johnson's first major international visit since securing a Brexit trade deal with the European Union.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson still intends to travel to India this month, according to No 10 Credit: Finnbarr Webster/PA

Indian officials have designated the strain as a variant under investigation (VUI) rather than a variant of concern (VOC), such as the Manaus (Brazil) or South African variants.

But Prof Altmann suspects the Indian mutation will be escalated to a variant of concern as it holds properties that allow it to bypass the existing vaccines and is more transmissible.

He told the BBC: “I think we should be terribly concerned about it.

“They (variants of concern) are things that can most scupper our escape plan at the moment and give us a third wave. They are a worry.”

Prof Altmann said he found it “mystifying” and “slightly confounding” that those arriving from India are not subject to a hotel quarantine.

India is not currently on the Government’s “red list” for travel. Being on the red list means people who have been in those countries in the last 10 days cannot enter the UK. British or Irish nationals, or people living in the UK, are able to return but must isolate in a hotel for 10 days.

A Downing Street spokesperson said the government’s red list is “under constant review”.

According the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around one in 480 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to April 10 – the lowest figure since the week to September 19 last year.

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Infection rates in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have also fallen, ONS data showed.

But case rates are rising in other parts of the world. World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said coronavirus rates globally were “worrying”.

India recorded more than 217,000 daily cases on Friday, pushing its total since the pandemic began past 14.2 million.