/Fears Indian double mutant strain could scupper path to freedom

Fears Indian double mutant strain could scupper path to freedom


Fears Indian 'double mutant' strain could 'scupper' roadmap out of lockdown
A professor of immunology has said the UK should be ‘terribly concerned’ about the possible impact of the strain (Picture: Rex)

Britain’s path to freedom could be ‘scuppered’ by the emergence of a new ‘double mutant’ Covid-19 variant from India, a leading scientist has warned.

Strict lockdown measures and a successful vaccine rollout have combined to drive down infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

But a professor of immunology has urged the UK to be on its guard against a third wave after 77 cases of another potentially vaccine-busting mutation were detected on these shores.

Public Health England (PHE) reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant, which was first discovered in India, had been found, while a further four cases were identified in Scotland.

India recorded a record 234,692 new infections over the last 24 hours to Saturday – the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days.

Total cases have now reached nearly 14.5 million, second only to the United States which has reported more than 32 million infections.

Imperial College’s Danny Altmann said the UK should be ‘terribly concerned’ about the possible impact of the strain.

He said the discovery of it here should warrant India being placed on the government’s ‘red list’, which sees people who have been in those countries in the previous 10 days refused entry to the UK.

British or Irish nationals, or people with UK residency rights, are able to return from red list countries but must isolate in a quarantine hotel for 10 days.


epa09139209 A health worker takes a nasal swab sample of a woman to test for COVID-19 at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus railway station in Mumbai, India, 16 April 2021. A curfew is announced in Mumbai, and many other states as India recorded its highest daily spike of COVID-19 cases on 14 April with around 200,000 new infections in 24 hours. EPA/DIVYAKANT SOLANKI
A woman is tested at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus railway station in Mumbai (Picture: EPA)

FILE PHOTO: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) get treatment at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
Patients at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospita in New Delhi (Picture: Reuters)

A man is consoled by his relative as he sees the body of his father, who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), before his burial at a graveyard in New Delhi, India, April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A man is consoled as he sees the body of his father, who died from coronavirus (Picture: Reuters)

India Covid strain detected in UK as 77 cases investigated Picture: Metro.co.uk
A number of different variants from all over the world have been found in the UK (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

Officials have currently designated it a ‘variant under investigation’ (VUI) rather than a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC), such as the Manaus (Brazil) or South African variants.

But Prof Altmann said he ‘suspected’ the Indian mutation would be escalated to a ‘variant of concern’ as it holds properties that make it more evasive to the vaccines currently on offer, like the South African variant, and more transmissible, in a similar fashion to the Californian version of coronavirus.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM: ‘I think we should be terribly concerned about it.

‘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.’

Prof Altmann said he found it ‘mystifying’ and ‘slightly confounding’ that those flying in from India were not required to stay in a hotel.

Despite the warning, Downing Street has insisted that Boris Johnson’s trip to India later this month will go ahead, although it will be drastically scaled down.


Metro Graphic cases graphic 16th April
Infections have dropped considerably since the peak in January (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

The Prime Minister has already postponed his trip to India once, due to dealing with a surge in cases in Britain in January.

No 10 signalled that Mr Johnson was reluctant to push back what will be his first major international trip since securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.

A Downing Street spokesman told reporters: ‘The Prime Minister’s visit is still happening later this month.

‘We have said that the programme will be slightly shorter than it will have been, and you can expect the main body of his programme to take place on Monday April 26.

‘As you would expect, safety is obviously important and is a priority for us on this trip, which is why we will make sure that all elements of the visit are Covid-secure.’

Mr Johnson was due to spend four days in the South Asian country at the end of the month but, following talks with Narendra Modi’s administration, the ‘bulk’ of the meetings could be fitted into one day.

When asked why India did not feature on the government’s ‘red list’, a Downing Street spokesman said the list of banned countries is ‘under constant review’.

Labour said the blame for the Indian mutation making its way into Britain ‘rests squarely with the UK government’.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: ‘Ministers have been warned time and again that failing to introduce a comprehensive hotel quarantine policy would leave us exposed to variants of Covid.’

The figure of 77 UK cases comes from the latest update of PHE’s surveillance of the distribution of different variants across the country, based on data up to April 7.


People stand in line to collect home testing kits for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from a testing site on Clapham Common in London, Britain, April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
People stand in line to collect home testing kits on Clapham Common in London (Picture: Reuters)

It is understood that the cases detected in England are dispersed across different parts of the country and many are linked to international travel, but investigations are under way.

According to PHE, the variant ‘includes a number of mutations including E484Q, L452R, and P681R’.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the first two in particular ‘are causing people to be concerned’ as they are ‘escape mutations’.

He added: ‘There’s laboratory evidence that both of these are escape mutations.

‘Basically, applying what we know about other human coronaviruses would suggest that this is going to be even less controlled by vaccine.

‘But we don’t know that for certain at the moment.’


India Covid strain detected in UK as 77 cases investigated Picture: Metro.co.uk
According to PHE, the variant ‘includes a number of mutations including E484Q, L452R, and P681R’ (Picture: Metro.co.uk)

The 484 spike protein has been associated with the Manaus and South African variants, with the E484K mutation reported to result in weaker neutralisation by antibodies in lab experiments.

However, the E484Q mutation is different and still subject to investigation.

Lab studies suggest the L452R mutation may reduce antibodies binding to the virus, particularly seen in combination with other mutations, PHE said.

Viruses by their nature mutate often, with more than 18,000 mutations discovered over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the overwhelming majority of which have no effect on the behaviour of the virus.

PHE’s latest findings mean there are now seven VUIs and four VOCs being tracked by scientists in the UK.

In London, extra testing facilities were launched this week to help limit the spread of the South African coronavirus variant following a cluster of cases being discovered.

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