(C) Reuters. People line up outside a mobile vaccination centre, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Bolton, Britain, May 13, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble
By Kate Holton and Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) -Britain could accelerate vaccinations in areas where a highly infectious coronavirus variant first detected in India has emerged, to try to ensure that it can reopen the economy as planned.
The United Kingdom has delivered one of the world’s fastest inoculation campaigns, giving a first shot to almost 70% of the adult population and a second to 36%, helping to reduce infection rates and deaths.
But the emergence of the B.1.617.2 variant in parts of northern England and London has some scientists calling for the reopening to be delayed, and has prompted a rethink on ways to speed up the vaccination drive.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was holding a news conference on Friday afternoon, but was not expected to delay a further easing of restrictions planned for Monday.
From Monday, people in England will be formally permitted to hug again, meet in small groups indoors and travel abroad. Johnson aims to lift all restrictions on June 21.
While shots are now available to anyone over the age of 38, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio that in areas where the Indian variant of concern had been found, they could be offered to younger people in multi-generational households.
Those receiving the Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) vaccine could also have the second dose more quickly, to boost protection, and there will be “surge testing”, where all residents of a certain area are asked to take a PCR test to help assess how widespread the problem is.
Public Health England has said there is evidence that B.1.617.2 could spread at least as quickly as the “Kent” variant, which fuelled England’s second wave of infections.
PHE said on Thursday there had been 1,313 cases in England of B.1.617.2 in a week, more than double the previous week’s figure, with four confirmed deaths.
Britain put India on a travel “red list” in April, meaning all arrivals from India – now suffering the world’s worst wave of COVID-19 – would have to pay to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Media reports at the time suggested that, because the quarantine requirement was announced four days in advance, many people had sought to fly beforehand. Britain has a large South Asian community.
Even with new variants, the government is likely to want to avoid repeating the regional curbs used last year, which ultimately failed to prevent two further national lockdowns.
At the national level, infections are still low, and fell for a fifth consecutive week in England, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed on Friday.
Britain to adapt vaccine programme to tackle India variant
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