A total number of 2,323 cases of the Indian variant of COVID-19 have been reported in the UK, Matt Hancock has said
Delivering a statement on COVID-19 in the Commons, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that 483 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, where the Indian variant is now the dominant strain of the disease.
Mr Hancock revealed that there are 86 local authority areas where there are five or more confirmed cases of the variant, and said that surge testing will take place in Bedford following a rise in cases.
In Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, cases of the variant have doubled since the last week and are rising within all age groups.
“In Blackburn, hospitalisations are stable with eight people currently in hospital with COVID, and in Bolton 19 people are now in hospital with coronavirus – the majority of whom are eligible for a vaccine but haven’t yet had a vaccine,” he said.
“This shows the new variant is not tending to penetrate into older, vaccinated groups and it underlines again the importance of getting the jab especially – but not only – amongst the vulnerable age groups.”
This comes after Oxygen cylinders and ventilators landed in Delhi from the UK, but far more will be required, with India recording 320,000 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, with total deaths rising close to 200,000.
On the subject of the wider UK vaccine rollout, it has been announced that 37-year-olds in the country will be able to book a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, with 36-year-olds being able to do the same thing on Wednesday.
Mr Hancock was speaking as the third step of Prime Minister’s Boris Johnson’s roadmap for easing restrictions within England came into effect.
People are now being able to enjoy hugs with loved ones, indoor pints and meals, as wel as foreign holidays to a select number of abroad destinations.
But the Prime Minister has urged the British public to exercise a “heavy dose of caution” as a result of the threat of the Indian variant of the coronavirus.
There are fears that the variant, which could be as much as 50% more transmissible than the variant that had emerged in Kent at the end of last year and led to England’s third lockdown, could delay the lifting of all legal limits on social contact on 21 June, step four of the roadmap.
Mr Hancock said at the weekend that there is a “high degree of confidence” that the current coronavirus vaccines will protect against the Indian variant of the virus, but it could “spread like wildfire” among those who have not received a vaccine.
He repeated this within the House of Commons on Monday, telling MPs: “While we also don’t have the complete picture on the impact of the vaccine, the early laboratory data from Oxford University corroborates the evidence from Bolton Hospital and the initial observational data from India that vaccines are effective against this variant.
The health secretary has said that while this was “reassuring”, the early evidence has suggested that the variant is more transmissible than the Kent coronavirus variant and this “poses a real risk”.
Urging people to get vaccinated, Mr Hancock said the programme has saved over 12,000 lives and stopped more than 33,000 people from being hospitalised.
This comes after rescue workers fear a “terrible double blow” of the cyclone for a country that has been suffering more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths each day, as the nation’s authorities scramble to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.
He said: “To anyone who feels hesitant, not just in Bolton or Blackburn, but to anyone who feels hesitant about getting the vaccine right across the country, just look at what is happening in Bolton Hospital where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital – some of them in intensive care.
“Vaccines save lives, they protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said earlier that it is still “very likely” that step four will proceed as scheduled.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman has said that the UK government is not yet in a position to make any definitive decisions on whether the easing of Covid restrictions will happen on the 21st of June.
And Downing Street has said that announcements on the future of social distancing, guidance on weddings and plans for domestic coronavirus “passports” could be delayed by the Indian variant.