U.K. Rushes to Vaccinate as Contagious Covid Variant Advances
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. is battling to contain a highly contagious Covid variant first discovered in India so it can follow through with plans to fully reopen on June 21.
Authorities have identified 2,323 cases of the Indian strain of coronavirus in the U.K., Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday. It represents a far more rapid rate of transmission than other variants, including B.1.351, first detected in South Africa. That’s according to the latest data from Public Health England, which showed the Indian strain had more than doubled in a week. The government has limited entry for travelers from India.
Hancock has tried to reassure the public, saying there is no evidence the new variant is deadlier than others. He also said on Sunday that early data show vaccines do appear to work against the strain. Government advisers estimate it could be about 40%-50% easier to transmit than the so-called Kent variant, the most prevalent in the U.K. with 242,571 confirmed cases since it emerged in December, according to Public Health England.
The government is attempting to accelerate the vaccination rate with surge efforts in the hardest-hit areas, such as Bolton in northwest England. Almost two-fifths of the U.K. population is on course to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by the time the government is set to lift lockdown restrictions, according to projections by Airfinity Ltd., a research firm.
“Even if the final reopening step in June is paused, we don’t think it would necessarily make a massive difference to the near-term GDP profile,” James Smith, an economist at ING, wrote in a note on Monday. “What’s become increasingly clear from just about every data source over recent weeks is that consumers and businesses are much more optimistic than they were last summer.”
The U.K. has focused on providing a first dose of the vaccine to as many people as possible. Almost 55% of the population has received at least one shot, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker.
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