'We're not out the woods': PM warns new variants are still a threat to roadmap as India situation worsens

The row over Boris Johnson's Downing Street renovations rumbles on, reports ITV News Political Correpondent Carl Dinnen

Boris Johnson has warned the UK is "not out of the woods" in its battle with coronavirus, with variants of concern still threatening to derail the roadmap out of lockdown.

The prime minister told his Cabinet that the data on coronavirus infections and deaths "continues to look good", but admitted "there will still be challenges".

Mr Johnson is keen to contain the spread of any new Covid-19 variants before England takes its next step out of lockdown on May 17, which it is hoped will see the restart of international travel and most social restrictions lifted.

According to Downing Street, at Cabinet "the PM re-iterated that the data continues to look good but warned that we are not out of the woods yet as variants of concern continue to pose a threat.

"The PM said that while the road ahead looks positive, there will still be challenges and this government will continue to take tough decisions where necessary to protect both lives and livelihoods."

A new variant of coronavirus has been identified in India, where hundreds of thousands of new cases of coronavirus are being recorded each day.

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Covid-19 developments there are causing concern both in the UK around the world - Mr Johnson was forced to cancel a long-planned trip there last week due to the county's worsening situation.

After India's first wave of Covid-19 there had been a hope that "some level of herd immunity" had been achieved, infectious disease scientist Kristian Andersen told NPR.

However, over time, immunity has waned and infections have surged once again, with several thousand new deaths reported each day.

It is not yet clear whether the emergence of the B.1.617 variant, first identified in India, is to blame for a rise in cases, but scientists in the UK are currently investigating whether it could be.

Thousands of new coronavirus deaths are recorded in India each day. Credit: Channi Anand/AP

More than 100 cases of the new strain have so far been identified in the UK, and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said he hopes the situation in India will give the UK government "real pause for thought" about reopening international travel on May 17.

Last week, Wales' leader said: "We have cases of the Indian variant in Wales, as we've had cases of the South African variant.

"The UK government has a very important decision to make about May 17 and the reopening of international travel.

"I really hope that what we've seen in India in the last week will give them real pause for thought, and that we don't run the risk of opening up international travel too quickly on too broad a front, and that results in the virus coming back into Wales."

Days earlier, Mr Johnson told the nation in a Downing Street press conference that he expects a third wave of Covid to hit the UK this year.

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"The majority of scientific opinion in this country is still firmly of the view that there will be another wave of Covid at some stage this year," he said.

But he said then and reiterated it on Tuesday this week that there is no reason to deviate from the roadmap.

It is hoped the UK's immunisation drive, which has so far seen almost 40 million people given a first jab, will make the next wave of Covid more manageable, so long as no new variants emerge which can evade vaccines.

There is no evidence so far to suggest any of the Covid-19 mutants, including the one found in India, can escape vaccines.

By autumn, it is hoped there will be at least two effective Covid treatments "either in a tablet or capsule form" which sufferers can take at home, easing the burden on hospitals.

The new Antivirals Taskforce will "search for the most promising" home treatments and "support their development through clinical trials to ensure they can be rapidly rolled out" as soon as possible.

In India, however, the situation is not getting any better.

Downing Street said "we don't have surplus doses" when asked if vaccines will be sent to India as it suffers a surge in coronavirus cases.

The PM's official spokesman said: "We committed in February to sending excess doses from the UK's supply to the Covax procurement pool and to countries in need once they are available.

"Right now we are moving through the UK prioritisation list for our domestic rollout and we don't have surplus doses, but we will keep this under review."