Daily Mail

NEW FEARS ON INDIAN VARIANT

PM urged to add country to red list – with Delhi trip under fire

- By Victoria Allen and Shaun Wooller

FEARS are growing that an Indian Covid variant now spreading in Britain may be more infectious and make vaccines less effective.

Despite the increasing concern, India has been kept off the travel ‘red list’ ahead of a visit by Boris Johnson – fuelling speculatio­n that the decision against a travel ban is politicall­y motivated.

Last night critics of the Government claimed ‘lives are being put at risk’ by the failure to ‘secure our borders’.

One university professor warned it was ‘a disaster’, adding: ‘ We have more than 50 flights from India daily.’

The first case of the Indian variant was found in the UK on February 22. There have been 77 confirmed cases across England and Scotland so far. Vaccines are suspected to work less well against the variant and it may also spread more easily, based on its mutations.

But Downing Street has insisted the Prime Minister’s trip to India, where cases exceeded 200,000 a day this week, will still take place at the end of the month.

Experts have called for India to immediatel­y be added to the red list of countries from which the UK has banned travellers, with returning British and Irish nationals required to quarantine in a hotel for ten days.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘ India has a higher incidence of coronaviru­s than many countries on the red list, and there are signs this Indian variant might be more damaging.

‘Looking at the current state of the epidemic in India, and concerns about the variant, I struggle to see any public health reason why India isn’t already on the red list. People can make their own minds up on whether this has anything to do with the Prime Minister’s trip.’

The 73 cases of the Indian variant so far confirmed in England, and the four in Scotland, are understood to be widely dispersed, with no indication of clusters or outbreaks. Official sources say a few cases are being found in individual areas, with many linked to internatio­nal travel.

Professor Ravindra Gupta from the University of Cambridge, a Government adviser on new and emerging threats in the pandemic, said: ‘This new variant should cause a similar level of concern to the South African one.

‘It has two mutations which could help it escape vaccines and immunity in people who have had coronaviru­s, and another which could make it more transmissi­ble, although there is no evidence that is happening yet.

‘There is a lot of travel between the UK and India, and this variant appears to have been imported, so we need to do something about that. India should be on the red list for travel, and should not be kept off for any political reasons.’

Scientists are testing the variant to see if it can partially evade the protection from vaccines. Officials say there is no evidence for this yet or for it being more transmissi­ble. The mutant Indian virus has become a ‘variant under investigat­ion’ along with six others.

But Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College, said it was likely to be escalated to a ‘variant of concern’. He told BBC Radio 4: ‘I think we should be terribly concerned.’

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: ‘The Conservati­ves are putting the progress of the vaccine rollout at risk with their reckless refusal to secure our borders against Covid.

‘We need a proper hotel quarantine system in place urgently.’

Professor Christina Pagel, director of the clinical operationa­l research unit at University College London, described Mr Johnson’s trip to Delhi as ‘madness’.

But Downing Street said the PM’s visit is still going ahead. He was set to spend four days in the country, but the bulk of his itinerary will now take place on April 26.

Asked why India has not been put on the red list despite the soaring number of cases, a No 10 spokesman told reporters: ‘We add and remove countries based on the latest scientific data and public health advice from a range of world-leading experts.’

Professor Anthony Costello, director of the University College London Institute for Global Health, tweeted: ‘This is a disaster. We have more than 50 flights from India daily. 77 cases of a really nasty India variant that affects younger people already here? This is a total shambles. We have learnt nothing after a year.’

The variant was first discovered in India, although it may not have originated there. n Only half of staff at care homes for the elderly have been vaccinated in Lambeth, where surge testing is under way to try to curb the spread of the South African variant. Just 50.1 per cent of staff in the south London borough have had at least one dose – the lowest uptake among all local authoritie­s in England.

‘Reckless refusal to secure borders’

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