Indian variant could drive third coronavirus wave in UK, Sage expert warns

Sage adviser ‘very concerned’ about the spread of B1.617.2 variant

Chantal da Silva
Thursday 20 May 2021 11:57
Indian variant could drive third coronavirus wave in UK, says Prof Andrew Hayward

The Indian variant of coronavirus could drive a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, an expert has warned.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Prof Andrew Hayward, an expert in infectious disease at University College London who advises the government, said he was “very concerned” about the spread of the B1.617.2 variant.

Asked if the UK could be at the start of a third wave in infections due to the variant, which was first identified in India, he said: “I think so”.

“Obviously we’re doing everything we can to contain the spread of that but it’s likely that more generalised measures may start to be needed to control it,” Prof Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said.

The infectious disease expert said he believed that it would become more clear over the next week or two how much local outbreaks of the variant are spreading throughout the population.

“Previously, we've been able to halt the spread of some other variants through localised [efforts] like surge testing, but the scale of this is different and the number of places affected is different and the number of cases is different and the speed of increase is different,” he said.

“So my hunch is that this is going to become the dominant strain across the country, maybe even across the world,” Prof Hayward asserted.

He did say, however, that the UK’s fast-moving vaccination programme and other efforts could help prevent another major surge of coronavirus in the country.

“You know, that really brings it back down to this race against the vaccine and the virus. Except, the virus just got faster,” he said.

As the vaccination programme continues to get underway, he said localised efforts may be needed to prevent the spread of the Indian variant.

A third wave, he said, has always been likely. However, he said the impact of it would likely depend largely on how transmissible the new variant is and how many people are vaccinated.

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