Next seven days ‘crucial’ in determining impact of Indian variant on hospitals, says NHS chief

New variant detected in 151 local authorities within England and appears to be spreading particularly fast in areas such as Bolton, Bedford and Blackburn

Samuel Lovett
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 26 May 2021 13:57
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The next seven days will be “crucial” in determining the impact of the Indian coronavirus variant on England’s hardest-hit areas, according to hospital chiefs.

Known as B.1.617.2, the variant is thought to be spreading rapidly among unvaccinated pockets of the population in a number of cities and towns in England, including Bolton, Bedford, Blackburn and parts of London.

Up to 15 May, it had been detected in 151 local authorities, an 18 per cent increase on the week before, according to figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

Although the Covid vaccines remain effective against the variant after two doses, scientists are concerned that the highly transmissible variant will still spread among unvaccinated or not fully protected individuals as restrictions are lifting, culminating in some hospitalisations and deaths.

On Tuesday, the main hospital in Bolton, which has one of the highest rates of the Indian variant, reported “one of its busiest ever days” in its emergency department following a local rise in Covid hospitalisations.

There are currently 41 Covid-19 patients being treated at the hospital, with eight of them in critical care.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of the NHS Providers organisation, said that the number of hospital admissions in other areas of England with high B.1.617.2 rates was "ticking up", but not at the same levels seen during January and February.

"So let's just give you an example, one chief executive I spoke to said they had 20 hospitalisations last week, they've got 40 hospitalisations this week, they're expecting 60 hospitalisations next week, but this was in a hospital that in January and February was trying to deal with 150 Covid-19 patients,” he told Times Radio.

He later tweeted that NHS trust CEOs “are clear that modelling of future hospitalisations feels very uncertain given number of variables and unreliability of modelling in previous waves.

“They want to see what happens over the next seven days which they are describing as ‘the crucial week’.”

Mr Hopson also said that trust chiefs have been “struck” by how Covid hospitalisations “are very much focused on unvaccinated – either eligible unvaccinated or younger people not yet vaccinated”.

"The chief executives are saying to us they can definitely see a difference in terms of profile between people who've had one jab and people who've had two jabs - in other words there are very, very small numbers of people who've had double jabs... it is clear that actually the one jab doesn't give you the same level of protection as the second jab.”

However, the proportion of hospitalised patients requiring critical care is “significantly lower than previous waves”, Mr Hopson said. This has been linked to the younger age of people presenting with complications from Covid infection. In one trust, roughly 70 per cent of patients are under 45, Mr Hopson said.

There are "few, if any" Covid-19 hospital admissions among care home residents, he added.

It comes as one expert stressed that people should make sure they have their second jab.

Dr Maggie Wearmouth, a GP who sits on the JCVI, told Sky News that recent analysis was “incredibly encouraging” about the efficacy of the vaccines against the Indian variant.

“But the stress is on having two vaccine jabs,” she said. “That’s the most important thing is completing the programme.”

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