A CCP virus variant first detected in India is likely to be 50 percent more transmissible than the COVID-19 strain that is currently dominant in the UK, British medical experts have warned.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), a panel of experts who advise the UK government, said it is “highly likely” that the Indian variant of concern, known as B.1.617.2, is more transmissible than the UK variant, which was first detected in Kent and is now dominant in the UK.
“It is a realistic possibility that it is as much as 50 percent more transmissible,” the experts claimed, according to minutes released on Friday from their meeting a day earlier.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said current COVID-19 vaccines could be less effective at reducing transmission of the Indian variant.
“The vaccines may be less effective against mild disease but we don’t think they’re less effective against severe disease. But in combination with being less effective against mild disease, they’re almost certainly less effective against transmission,” he told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme on Saturday.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said on Friday that the variant was “quite widely seeded in a number of parts of England and indeed elsewhere in parts of the four nations of the United Kingdom,” and could overtake the Kent strain to become dominant in the UK.
Public Health England data show a rise in cases of the Indian variant of concern from 520 to 1,313 this week in the UK.
Whitty warned that if the variant proves to be more transmissible than other variants, the UK could see “a really significant surge” in CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus cases, adding: “That’s a really critical question to which we do not yet have the answer.”
Whitty told a Downing Street briefing that the UK might be seeing a delay in the impact of the new variant or that vaccines were holding it at bay.
He said: “It could be that it is initially circulating in younger ages, because that’s what has always happened previously. Younger people mix more and the initial circulation is in younger ages, and then it moves up the age range—so maybe it’s just a delay because of that.
“Or maybe it’s a delay because the vaccine is actually providing a firebreak, a barrier to reduce the transmission up the ages, into those who are most vulnerable.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the briefing that the Indian variant could “pose a serious disruption” to plans to end all lockdown restrictions in June.
But he said that step three of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown will go ahead as planned on May 17, which will allow indoor hospitality venues to reopen and the resumption of international travel.
PA contributed to this report.