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India coronavirus variant may delay reopenings in the UK

As the COVID-19 variant hits the U.K., the government buckles down on vaccinations to try and keep reopenings on track

People cross over a quiet Westminster Bridge, backdropped by the scaffolded Houses of Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower, known as Big Ben, in London, during England’s third coronavirus lockdown.
In this Tuesday, March 23, 2021 file photo, people cros over a quiet Westminster Bridge, backdropped by the scaffolded Houses of Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower, known as Big Ben, in London, during England’s third coronavirus lockdown.
Associated Press

A new, more transmissible variant of COVID-19, the B.1.617 variant, was first identified in India and, as of this week, is labeled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization. As of Wednesday, the variant has been found in 44 countries, according to WHO and France 24

At a press conference Friday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that this new variant may delay economic reopenings. Previously, the government aimed to lift all restrictions by June 21.

What is the current situation in the U.K.?

On Thursday, public health officials in England reported 1,313 cases of and four deaths from the B.1.617.2 variant. This is more than twice the number of cases of the variant recorded last week, Al Jazeera and CNBC report. So far, most cases have come from clusters of cases in northwest England, particularly the town of Bolton, and a few clusters in London.

  • Johnson said that the new variant will continue to circulate for some time and will require working together to overcome.

Just this Monday, England’s lockdown reached a new stage that allowed residents to hug again as well meet indoors in small groups and travel abroad. Restrictions were scheduled to ease again this Monday, allowing indoor dining and entertainment, plans which officials say may now be delayed, per The New York Times.

How is the U.K. responding?

In his speech, Johnson said that the U.K. will accelerate vaccination efforts to try and contain the spread of the new variant, according to CNBC. Health officials say this will involve prioritizing people, including young people, in regions most affected by the variant. The vaccination efforts would also aim to shorten the gap between the first and second shots.

  • The U.K. has had one of the fastest vaccine rollouts with almost 70% of the adult population receiving their first dose and nearly 36% receiving their second dose, according to Al Jazeera. Currently, the vaccine is available to anyone over the age of 38, CNBC reports.

Officials will continue monitoring the spread of the B.1.617.2 variant in the coming weeks, delaying reopenings as necessary, The New York Times reported. After spending the winter and spring under one of the world’s longest lockdown, U.K. health officials want to learn from their previous experience to better respond now.