Expert warns ‘double mutant’ variant could derail UK’s ‘escape plan’, says no travel ban on India 'mystifying'
- The new strain with two mutations, the E484Q and L452R, is thought to be driving India’s new wave of infections that have made it the second worst-hit country, surpassing Brazil.
Amid a massive surge in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases in India, a leading scientist has warned that the emergence of double mutation variant could detail Britain’s roadmap out of the lockdown. The British government is expected to lift all coronavirus-induced restrictions by June 21 as nearly half of the population has so far received at least one dose of authorised Covid-19 vaccines.
Danny Altmann, an immunology professor at Imperial College, told BBC that the UK should be on its guard against another wave of infections after 77 cases of the B.1.617 variant, which was first detected in India, were found. The new strain with two mutations, the E484Q and L452R, is thought to be driving India’s new wave of infections that has made it the second worst-hit country, surpassing Brazil.
"I think we should be terribly concerned about it," Altmann told BBC News. “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 added.
However, the Public Health England (PHE) has currently designated the new strain as a variant under investigation (VUI) and not as a variant of concern (VOC). The UK has also not placed India on its “red list”, which means incoming travellers from India won’t be required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Altmann said he found it “mystifying” and “slightly confounding” that travellers from India were not required to stay in a hotel. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to visit India later this month, which has reportedly been shortened because of the Covid-19 situation in the country.
Apart from the UK, the double mutation has been detected in countries like the US, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Singapore, Belgium, and Ireland, according to a statement released by India’s ministry of health and family welfare. “Higher transmissibility of this variant is not established as yet,” the ministry said.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that there’s laboratory evidence that the variant has two ‘escape mutations’, which makes it easier for the virus to slip past antibodies.
“Basically, applying what we know about other human coronaviruses would suggest that this is going to be even less controlled by vaccine,” Hunter told ITV. “But we don't know that for certain at the moment,” he added.
With the milder but more contagious Omicron subvariant BA.5 spreading across the continent, the 53 countries in the WHO European region are currently registering just under 500,000 cases daily, according to the organisation's data. That is up from around 150,000 cases daily at the end of May. Austria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal were the countries with the highest incidence rates, with almost all countries in the region seeing a rise in cases.
China's embassy in New Zealand rebuked New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for comments she made at the NATO summit about Chinese assertiveness, calling them "misguided" and "wrong". Ardern said on Wednesday in Madrid that China has "in recent times also become more assertive and more willing to challenge international rules and norms." New Zealand, which is heavily reliant on China for trade, has often shied away from direct criticism of Beijing.
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Judges in Florida and Kentucky on Thursday moved to block those states from enforcing bans or restrictions on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had established a nationwide right to it. In Kentucky, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mitch Perry issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from enforcing a ban passed in 2019 and triggered by the Supreme Court's decision.
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