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Britain says ‘Indian variant’ of coronavirus could spread like ‘wildfire’

Health secretary says there is ‘high degree of confidence’ that existing vaccines work well against new strain.

The British health secretary said that the Indian variant of coronavirus could “spread like wildfire” among the unvaccinated.

In an interview with Sky News on Sunday, Matt Hancock said there is a “high degree of confidence” that existing vaccines work well against the new variant, but those who are eligible for vaccination have to take up that offer to protect themselves and the country.

England is further loosening up its coronavirus restrictions on Monday, but the final phase of lockdown easing on June 21 is being put at risk by the spread of the Indian variant inside the UK.

Hancock said the new variant can “spread even faster” than the Kent variant – known as the UK variant outside Britain – which caused the UK’s second wave during winter.

He added that the Indian variant is already “becoming the dominant strain in some parts of the country.”

Bolton and Blackburn, towns in the northwest of England, are where the Indian variant is taking the deepest hold.

Hancock said that in Bolton, the “vast majority” of those hospitalized with the variant are people eligible for the vaccine but have not taken it up.

In London, surge testing is taking place in the boroughs of Kensington, Chelsea, Hounslow, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets, and Hillingdon. The situation in London is still not as severe as it is in the northwest of England, however.

“We need to be cautious, we need to be careful, we need to be vigilant and we’ve said – at each step – we will look at the four tests that we have,” Hancock said. “Because of the speed of transmission of this one, it can really spread like wildfire among the unvaccinated groups – hence we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, particularly among those who are most vulnerable to ending up in hospital.”

Over the past 24 hours, there were 1,926 more positive cases of COVID-19 across the UK, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to over 4.4 million. There were also four new deaths, bringing the tally to 127,679.

Over 36.5 million first doses of vaccine have been administered, while over 20.1 million people are fully inoculated.

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