World COVID at lowest level since August - amid fears Indian variant could push infections back up
What are the global implications of India’s second COVID wave?
India witnessing worst phase of pandemic as WHO says highly infectious Indian variant of virus has spread to 17 nations.However, medical experts say the real numbers across the country of 1.35 billion may be five to 10 times higher than the official tally.
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Coronavirus cases in England are at their lowest level since last August, a new study suggests - but it comes amid fears the rapid spread of the Indian variant could push infections up and impact the PM's final step out of lockdown on 21 June.
Where will the next COVID hotspots be?
Dr Khan explains how India’s troubles are spreading across the sub-continent, while pregnant women are dying in Brazil.India has seen a rapid and well-publicised increase in COVID cases. After a stepwise easing of restrictions across the country throughout 2020, India’s leader, President Narendra Modi, declared the country was in the “end game” of the pandemic. Soon after this bold statement, large religious and political gatherings were allowed to take place with little regard for social distancing and, inevitably, cases began to soar. On May 3, India hit the grim milestone of 20 million COVID cases, though the true number is thought to be much higher.
The government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) is reportedly due to hold an emergency meeting today to discuss the Indian variant of concern and Boris Johnson's roadmap out of lockdown.
The prime minister has said there is "increasing concern" in the UK about the variant first identified in India - and warned the emergence of further new variants "pose a potentially lethal danger".
What we know about Indian COVID variant WHO calls ‘of concern’
WHO says variant first identified in India last year is of global concern, with studies showing it spreads more easily.Scientists are studying what led to the surge, and particularly whether a variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in India is to blame.
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PM urges 'heavy dose of caution' as hugs, foreign holidays and indoor pints return
People across England are again able to enjoy hugs with loved ones, indoor pints and foreign holidays - but Boris Johnson has urged a "heavy dose of caution" due to the threat of the Indian variant of COVID-19. As the country moves to stage three of the prime minister's roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions today, friends and family will enjoy greater freedom to gather together.This includes being able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30 and gathering indoors in groups of up to six, or as two households.
Asked about the Indian variant and whether it could delay the 21 June unlocking, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly told Sky News: "The scientists on SAGE will make their assessments, they will report back to government and we will make decisions based on the data and the evidence that they provide.
"The prime minister and the health secretary have always been clear that the easing of restrictions which will allow us to get back to normality will be done at a pace and in a way which is safe. We will always be driven by the data."
The European Medicines Agency said on Wednesday it was "pretty confident" that vaccines currently in use are effective against the Indian variant - a view echoed by some British scientists.
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According to data from the latest round of the React-1 study, prevalence of COVID-19 infections dropped by 50% between March and early May - indicating the success of the vaccine rollout despite the relaxation of lockdown.
Ministers urge vaccine take up amid variant fears
Matt Hancock is urging anyone who is unsure about having a Covid jab to "look at the situation in Bolton".The health secretary said anyone who is unsure to "look at...Bolton" - where he said most people in hospital with Covid were eligible for a jab but refused it.
Between the last round which looked at data from March, and the current round which looked at data from April to the beginning of May, swab-positivity dropped by 50% in England from 0.20% to 0.10%. Experts estimate the corresponding R number to be 0.90.
The data includes 127,408 coronavirus swab tests carried out across England between 15 April and 3 May.
Researchers found there was a fall in all age groups except the 25 to 34-year-olds, with a "significant" fall in the 55 to 64-year-olds.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React programme, told a press briefing: "This coincides with the rollout of the vaccine programme to the younger part of that age group."
The data also suggests higher prevalence among the Asian community.
Researchers say the divergence between the pattern of infections and a pattern of hospital admissions and deaths suggests the rollout of mass vaccination is preventing severe outcomes.
Asked whether the data supported a move into the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions, Prof Elliott said: "It is a difficult question because we have low levels of prevalence in the community, and we've got low levels of disease in hospitals and deaths, so that's good.
Local lockdowns and delay to next step of roadmap cannot be ruled out, minister warns
Rising cases of the Indian COVID variant could delay the easing of restrictions and force the government to impose local lockdowns, a minister has warned. When asked if the proposed end of restrictions in England on 21 June may not go ahead as planned, Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News: "We cannot rule anything out." Your browser does not support this video He said imposing local lockdowns in areas where the population remains at risk while opening up the rest of the country is one of the options being looked at.
"But I think that the patterns in the Indian variant are cause for some concern."
He added that further studies are needed to really understand the characteristics and the spread of the Indian variant which appears to be at least as transmissible as the Kent variant.
Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics, Imperial College London, said: "What you can see in recent times - basically since the widespread rollout of the vaccine - and we showed this last time, that you see a decoupling of the relationship between the React infection and a lagged number of deaths.
"And this gap is showing how we can have more infections in the population with far fewer deaths.
"And we actually see that difference growing nicely now for hospitalisations as well, so for each infection in the community we are producing fewer hospitalisations and far fewer deaths."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: "Today's findings demonstrate the impact our incredible vaccination rollout is having on COVID-19 infection rates across the country, with prevalence lowest amongst those more vulnerable people aged 65 and over."
Meanwhile, preliminary data in mixing vaccines has found an increased frequency of mild to moderate symptoms in those who received different jabs for the first and second dose.
Pfizer vaccine likely to be effective against Indian variant of coronavirus, BioNTech boss says
BioNTech says the COVID vaccine it has developed with Pfizer is likely to be as effective against the Indian variant of coronavirus as it is against the South African strain. © Associated Press A study preprint has shown Indian variant can be 'neutralised' by the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Pic: AP The company's chief executive, Ugur Sahin, said he was encouraged by recent findings in a scientific paper - adding that his company's jab is around 75% effective against the variant of the coronavirus first found in South Africa.
The Com-Cov study was launched in February to investigate alternating doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer Covid-19 jabs, with either being given as the first dose, and then the other as the second.
Reactions included symptoms like chills, fatigue, headaches and feeling feverish, and were short-lived, according to a peer-reviewed letter that has been printed in The Lancet.
There were no other safety concerns, researchers found.
Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading -. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and . Only if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In , call your GP.
Pfizer and AZ jabs work against Indian variant .
They are effective against symptomatic disease but protection is low after only one dose, a study says.Two jabs of either vaccine give a similar level of protection against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant as they do for the Kent one.