THE Indian Covid variant “may be resistant” to a vaccine – as an expert warns it could “scupper the UK’s escape plan” out of lockdown.
Professor Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said India should be on the Government’s “red list” of hotel quarantine countries due to the new strain.
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And he said the variant first discovered there could “scupper” Boris Johnson’s road map out of strict Covid restrictions.
Despite the warning, Downing Street insisted the Prime Minister’s trip to India later this month will go ahead – although it will be drastically scaled down.
Public Health England reported that 73 cases of the Indian variant have been found in England, as well as four cases in Scotland.
Officials have currently designated it as a “variant under investigation” rather than a “variant of concern” like the Brazilian or South African variants.
He told BBC Radio 4: “I think we should be terribly concerned about it.
“They (variants of concern) are things that can most scupper our escape plan at the moment and give us a third wave. They are a worry.”
He said he found it “mystifying” that India was not a “red-listed country” already.
Professor Altmann added that the new variant was being found in “quite a high proportion” of positive cases in India.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, also said the Indian variant was worrying.
He told the Times: “When you look at the South African strain it has one escape mutation. Escape mutations are mutations that make it less controlled by prior immunity.
“The big concern with the Indian variant is it potentially has two escape mutations. If that is the case then it might be even more resistant to vaccine than the South African variant, which we know is partially resistant.”
India has seen soaring Covid-19 rates, with more than 14 million confirmed cases and 174,000 deaths.
Boris Johnson has already postponed his trip to India once while dealing with a surge in cases in Britain in January.
No 10 signalled that Mr Johnson was reluctant to push back what will be his first major international trip since securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.
A Downing Street spokesman told reporters: “The Prime Minister’s visit is still happening later this month.”
The country is not currently on the Government’s “red list” for travel, which sees people who have been in those countries in the previous 10 days refused entry to the UK.
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British or Irish nationals, or people with UK residency rights, are able to return from red list countries but must isolate in a quarantine hotel for 10 days.
Asked why India has not been put on the red list despite the soaring number of cases, Downing Street said the situation is “under constant review”.
Labour said the blame for the Indian mutation making its way into Britain “rests squarely with the UK Government”.