Caution urged as Wales reopens, with Indian variant of Covid 'a concern'

Pubs, cafes and restaurants across Wales have resumed indoor service for the first time this year. Credit: PA Images

People in Wales are urged to "be very careful" as lockdown restrictions are eased further, with a highly transmissible strain of coronavirus continuing to cause concern.

The Indian variant, also known as B1617.2, is already in Wales and other parts of the UK.

There are three so-called Indian variants, but only one is classed as a variant of concern (VOC) while the others are classed as variants under investigation (VUI).

Altogether, there are 26 cases of Indian variants in Wales - 11 cases of the variant of concern, and 15 cases of the variant under investigation.

The majority are associated with travel or with known contacts, and contact tracing procedures are in place to try to limit community transmission, Public Health Wales said.

Cases of the Indian variant have risen rapidly in parts of England. Credit: PA Images

Dr Giri Shankar is the incident director for the Covid-19 response at Public Health Wales.

He told ITV News the Indian variant has been reported in around 40 countries and that it is "cause for concern".

Dr Shankar said: "We are seeing rapidly expanding clusters in England, notably in the north-west, in the London region, and also east of England.

"Therefore, the rate of spread of this variant is definitely a cause for concern and we have to keep a very close eye on it - especially at this point in time when we are relaxing restrictions and people are beginning to have more interactions with each other. We’ve got to be very careful not to allow this variant to take a foothold in Wales."

Indoor entertainment venues, like Chapter cinema in Cardiff, have also reopened. Credit: PA Images

Pubs, cafes and restaurants in Wales have resumed indoor service for the first time this year as lockdown restrictions are eased further.

Entertainment venues like cinemas and all tourist accommodation are also reopening, with holidays abroad also now allowed to certain countries.

But speaking on Sky News on Friday, Wales' First Minister said his plans to introduce even more easements had been impacted by the emergence of the Indian variant.

Mark Drakeford said proposals to allow smaller events to reopen, as well as further relaxing rules on people meeting, were "paused."

He also said he is keeping a "particular watch" over cases in north-west England due to its proximity to the Welsh border.

People are urged to have their vaccines to give themselves the best possible chance of protection. Credit: PA Images

But Dr Giri Shankar continued: "As long as people are very sensible and cautious about their interactions, the risk should be contained."

He urged people not to "indiscriminately mix with strangers" and to follow the rules.

Scientists are still working to determine whether the coronavirus vaccines are effective against the Indian variant, but eligible people are urged to get their jabs.

Dr Shankar said: "I think it is important that everybody who’s offered the vaccine takes it up and takes both the doses that are on offer, and of course that will protect them against the serious form of the infection, including hospitalisations and deaths. 

"But we know that no vaccine is 100% effective, and some vaccines may not work that effectively against certain variants, especially in preventing mild to moderate infections.

“The emergence of another transmissible new variant is a reminder that we should not become complacent, even as rates of coronavirus across Wales remain low. 

"Protect yourself and others by remaining at least two metres away from everyone else, washing your hands regularly, and by wearing a face covering where required. Self-isolate and get a test if you or anyone in your household develop symptoms.”

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