Bolton is revealed as UK hotspot for new Indian Covid strain as infection rates in former mill town soar to more than four times the national average
- Public health officers in Bolton are going door-to-door in bod to control variant
- The majority of cases of Indian variant are in London, the North West & Bolton
- Residents int three Bolton boroughs are being told to expect a knock on the door
Public health officers in Bolton are going door-to-door in a bid to control the spread of the B16172 Indian coronavirus variant.
Indian variant cases have soared over the last week and Public Health officials say almost half the cases are related to travel or contact with a traveller.
The cases are spread across the country, however, the majority of the cases are in London and the North West, predominantly Bolton.
Residents living in the Bolton boroughs of Rumworth, Deane and Great Lever are being told to expect a knock on the door.
The former mill town of Bolton has been revealed as the UK hotspot for the new Covid 19 strain detected in India which has been escalated to a ‘variant of concern’
They will be told about new measures in place to stop the transmission of the variant.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director at Public Health England (PHE) said: ‘We are monitoring all of these variants extremely closely.
‘We have taken the decision to classify this as a variant of concern because the indications are that this VOC-21APR-02 is a more transmissible variant.’
Bolton has been revealed as the UK hotspot for the new Covid 19 strain detected in India which has been escalated to a ‘variant of concern’.
Urgent measures to contain the variant are in the works in the town including surge testing and a strengthened vaccination campaign urging people to get the jab.
Areas within the BL3 postcode in Bolton, Greater Manchester, registered a small number of cases of the variant, leading to widespread testing.
There are 520 confirmed cases of the strain in the country, up from 202 the previous week.
Surge testing is increased testing (including door-to-door testing in some areas) and enhanced contact tracing in specific locations.
It involves testing of people who do not have any symptoms of coronavirus.
Surge testing centres with Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests have been set up in venues including a Hindu temple in addition to a large Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) site.
Areas within the BL3 postcode in Bolton, Greater Manchester, registered a small number of cases of the variant, leading to widespread testing
As well as being the hotspot for the new strain, Bolton has recorded the second highest Covid infection rate in the country with cases continuing to rise, below only Hyndburn in Lancashire.
Weekly data shows that Bolton had the second highest Covid-19 case rate in England for the seven days to May 3 up to 89 cases per 100,000 people, up 78 per cent on the previous week.
Compared to the average in the country which sits at 20.6 cases per 100,000 people for the same period.
One area, Rumworth South, has seen cases skyrocket by 500 percent, with an infection rate of 359.3 per 100,000 people.
Public health officers will be going door-to-door to explain the emergency situation unfolding in Bolton.
The Department of Health said a ‘small number’ of cases of the variant first identified in South Africa (B.1.351) and a cluster of cases of the B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India had been found.
It comes as Public Health England (PHE) upgraded the Indian variant to a ‘variant of concern’.
The majority of Indian variant cases are in the North West, predominantly Bolton, and London, where there has also been increased transmission.
Bolton Council’s Director of Public Health, Dr Helen Lowey, said: ‘There is no evidence these variants cause more severe illness, there is some evidence that the Indian variant spreads more easily than other Covid-19 variants so it is the one that we want to stop and contain.
No10’s top scientists calculated the R rate had fallen compared to last week, when it was between 0.8 and 1.1 across England. But they said the measure was becoming less reliable because of low numbers of cases, deaths and hospitalisations
Public Health England has divided the Indian variant in three sub-types because they aren’t identical. Type 1 and Type 3 both have a mutation called E484Q but Type 2 is missing this, despite still clearly being a descendant of the original Indian strain. It is not yet clear what separates Type 1 and 3
‘We are working closely with our partners across the community to identify people who have the virus, to increase the numbers of our eligible residents having the vaccine and to remind us all that Covid has not gone away.
‘These measures are designed to bring the virus under control, but there are basic things we can all do to stop Covid spreading.
‘Wash your hands regularly, wear a face covering, maintain social distancing, keep areas well ventilated and take up the vaccine when it is offered.’
Dr Helen Wall, Senior Responsible Officer of the Covid-19 Vaccination Programme in Bolton, said:
‘It is proven that vaccination has a significant impact on the spread and severity of the virus, so we will be taking steps to provide additional capacity in these areas.
‘We have a good track record of vaccination and a high level of confidence in the programme already in Bolton and we aim to build on that with some targeted vaccination work to try and nip this in the bud to protect everyone in Bolton.
‘We are so close to getting things back to normal; let’s keep up the momentum and stop this virus from spreading further.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INDIA VARIANTS?
Real name: B.1.617 — now divided into B.1.617.1; B.1.617.2; B.1.617.3
When and where was it discovered?
The variant was first reported by the Indian government in February 2021.
But the first cases appear to date back to October 2020.
Its presence in the UK was first announced by Public Health England on April 15. There have since been at least 400 cases spotted in genetic lab testing.
What mutations does it have?
It has 13 mutations that separate it from the original Covid virus that emerged in China — but the two main ones are named E484Q and L452R.
Scientists suspect these two alterations can help it to transmit faster and to get past immune cells made in response to older variants.
PHE officials said it has split into three distinct virus types, with types 1 and 3 both having the E484Q mutation but type 2 missing the change, despite having all the other hallmarks of the variant.
Is it more infectious and can it evade vaccines?
The L452R mutation is also found on the Californian variant (B.1.429), even though the two evolved independently. It is thought to make the American strain 20 per cent more infectious than the original Wuhan version – even with the extra 20 per cent it is likely slower than the Kent variant.
The E484Q mutation is very similar to the one found in the South African and Brazil variants known as E484K, which can help the virus evade antibodies.
The South African variant is thought to make vaccines about 30 per cent less effective at stopping infections, but it’s not clear what effect it has on severe illness.
Professor Sharon Peacock, of PHE, claimed there was ‘limited’ evidence of E484Q’s effect on immunity and vaccines. Lab studies have suggested it may be able to escape some antibodies, but to what degree remains uncertain.
Early research suggests both the AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield in India, and the Pfizer jab, still work against the variant, as well as India’s own jab, Covaxin. A paper published by SAGE last week suggested two doses of the Pfizer vaccine is good enough to protect against all known variants.
How deadly is it?
Scientists still don’t know for sure. But they are fairly certain it won’t be more deadly than the current variants in circulation in Britain.
This is because there is no evolutionary benefit to Covid becoming more deadly. The virus’s sole goal is to spread as much as it can, so it needs people to be alive and mix with others for as long as possible to achieve this.
And, if other variants are anything to go by, the Indian strain should not be more lethal.
There is still no conclusive evidence to show dominant versions like the Kent and South African variants are more deadly than the original Covid strain – even though they are highly transmissible.
Doctors in India claim there has been a sudden spike in Covid admissions among people under 45, who have traditionally been less vulnerable to the disease.
There have been anecdotal reports from medics that young people make up two third of new patients in Delhi. In the southern IT hub of Bangalore, under-40s made up 58 percent of infections in early April, up from 46 percent last year.
There is still no proof younger people are more badly affected by the new strain.
Should we be worried?
Scientists are unsure exactly how transmissible or vaccine-resistant the Indian variant is because it hasn’t been studied thoroughly.
The fact it appears to have increased infectivity should not pose an immediate threat to the UK’s situation because the current dominant Kent version appears equally or more transmissible.
It will take a variant far more infectious strain than that to knock it off the top spot.
However, if the Indian version proves to be effective at slipping past vaccine-gained immunity, then its prevalence could rise in Britain as the immunisation programme squashes the Kent variant.
Why has B.1.617.2 been designated as a variant of concern?
Scientists believe this variant can spread more quickly than two other related variants seen in India.
It is thought to be at least as transmissible as the variant detected in Kent last year, known as B117, which is now dominant in the UK.
Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director at PHE, said: ‘We are monitoring all of these variants extremely closely and have taken the decision to classify this as a variant of concern because the indications are that this VOC-21APR-02 is a more transmissible variant.’
PHE said there is currently ‘insufficient evidence’ to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or make the vaccines available any less effective.
How many cases have been detected in the UK?
According to data by PHE released on Friday, there are, at present, 520 confirmed cases of the B.1.617.2 variant in the UK, from 202 over the last week.
The report also showed 261 cases of B.1.617.1 and nine cases of B.1.617.3.
The cases are spread across the country, with the majority in two areas – the North West, mainly in Bolton, and London.
PHE said around half of these cases are related to travel or contact with a traveller.
PHE health protection teams are working with local authorities, public health officials and NHS Test and Trace to detect cases and limit onward spread.
Surge testing is expected to be deployed where there is evidence of community transmission.
Is B16172 variant driving the second wave in India?
India reported 412,262 new Covid-19 cases and 3,980 Covid-19-related deaths on Thursday — both new single-day records.
In the past 30 days, the country has recorded 8.3million cases.
However, it remains unclear whether the new coronavirus variants are driving the second wave.
Experts say large gatherings, and lack of preventive measures such as mask-wearing or social distancing, are playing a key role in the spread of the virus.
Although India has the world’s biggest vaccine making capacity, the country has partially or fully immunised less than 10 per cent of its 1.35billion people.
Just five new Covid deaths are recorded as cases rise 7.3 per cent to 2,047 – while number of people who have had second jab soars past 17m
By Joe Davies for MailOnline
Britain’s daily coronavirus deaths fell by nearly 30 per cent today, as the number of people who have received a second dose soared past 17million.
There were 2,047 positive tests across the country, the Department of Health announced, up 7.3 per cent on last Saturday’s number (1,907).
Officials also recorded just five lab-confirmed deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid swab, 28.6 per cent less than the number recorded a week ago.
The latest figures show that nearly 35.2million Britons have been given at least one dose of Covid vaccine, after another 119,349 first injections were administered yesterday.
The NHS also dished out a further 449,716 second doses, bringing the total number of people fully vaccinated against the disease to 17.2million.
Some 66.8 per cent of adults have had a first jab, while nearly a third have had their second.
It comes surge testing began in the former mill town of Bolton today, which has been identified as a hotspot for the Indian Covid variant.
British health chiefs yesterday announced India’s mutant coronavirus strain is now officially a ‘variant of concern’.
Public Health England say the variant — linked to an explosion of cases in India — is ‘at least’ as infectious as the current dominant Kent strain.
Cases of the variant, scientifically called B.1.617.2, have more than doubled in a week. It has now been spotted 520 times, with hotspots in Bolton and London.
Health officials are confident vaccines currently being used should still work against the variant but are carrying out urgent tests to be certain.
Scientists have grouped the Indian variant into three separate sub-strains, with type 2 quickly spreading in the UK. It has been found in schools, care homes and places of worship, it was reported yesterday.
The other two are genetically similar strains — B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.3 — and aren’t currently considered variants of concern. But PHE said their status will be kept ‘under constant review’.
Despite being more infectious, health chiefs don’t believe the variant is deadlier than original coronavirus strains.
The move to make the Indian variant one ‘of concern’ means officials can now put in place tougher measures to contain the strain, including ordering door-to-door tests and boosting contact tracing. All residents living in areas where the variant is spreading in the community will be asked to get a test, even if they don’t have symptoms.
The Department of Health has announced it will start surge testing in Bolton in the BL3 postcode and has asked residents to book a test online or on the phone so they can go for one at a site or have one delivered to them at home. Surge testing in London has not yet been announced.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday said that tracking of the Indian variant will be ‘absolutely ruthless’.
Celebrating the Tories delivering a hammer blow to the Labour’s Red Wall in the local elections, Mr Johnson told reporters: ‘What we’re doing there is making sure that we are absolutely ruthless in the surge testing, in the door-to-door tracking of any contacts.
‘At the moment we’re looking carefully at the way the Indian variant seems to function, we don’t see any evidence that it is resistant to the vaccines or in any way more dangerous.’
Public Health England has divided the Indian variant into three sub-types because they aren’t identical. Type 1 and Type 3 both have a mutation called E484Q but Type 2 is missing this, despite still clearly being a descendant of the original Indian strain. It is not yet clear what separates Type 1 and 3
But an expert has warned the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown might be delayed because of outbreaks of the variant.
Dr Duncan Robinson, policy and strategy analytics academic at Loughborough University, yesterdaysaid a ‘political decision’ may be taken to slow down easing restrictions because the strain could disproportionately affect areas where there are outbreaks.
But speaking in Hartlepool yesterday, Mr Johnson also said he ‘can’t see any reason’ to delay the remaining steps along the out of lockdown.
Early research suggests both the AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield in India, and the Pfizer jab, still work against the variant.
Cases HALVE in a month to 46,000, R rate falls slightly and is still below one, and fewer than 1,000 patients are now in hospital for the first time since September
England’s coronavirus cases have halved in a month, the R rate is still below one, and the number of people in hospital has dropped below 1,000 for the first time since September, promising data revealed today.
Just 46,000 people had coronavirus in England on any given day last week, or one in 1,180 people, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The figure was around 112,000 towards the start of April – and is down 15 per cent last Friday’s estimate.
No10’s top scientists said the reproduction rate – which tracks the spread of the virus – was between 0.8 and 1.0, meaning the outbreak is still shrinking. This was down from 0.8 to 1.1 in the previous seven-day period.
Meanwhile, NHS figures show the number of infected patients in hospitals across England has dropped into three figures for the first time since the second wave spiralled out of control nine months ago. Daily admissions are now below 100.
The data follows on from promising statistics from Public Health England and a symptom-tracking app yesterday, which showed the easing of restrictions on April 12 has not triggered any spike in the disease.
Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to speed up his roadmap out of lockdown, with businesses and MPs warning that they risk suffering another lost summer if there are further delays.
But the Prime Minister has refused to budge from plans to re-allow holidays and indoor hospitality from May 17, despite promising he would be led by ‘data not dates’.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference tonight Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Protection Agency, said: ‘Yes we should be concerned. Our overall positivity rates have dropped dramatically but in some areas there are some variants of concern.
‘Particularly the Indian one, which has risen quite sharply in the last week or two. So in those areas, we really do want people to be extra cautious.’
She said that while scientists had determined the variant was more transmissible, they still need to monitor its affect on vaccine effectiveness and disease severity.
Ms Harries added: ‘While we’re watching that, we’re taking a whole host of steps to ensure areas where we have seen that we have enhanced contact tracing, we’re going in with messaging, working with local communities, with local directors of public health, to make sure people are really aware of the potential risk.
‘We’re encouraging people to continue working from home. All the things we know work.
‘Socialising outdoors, even if the situation and the rules change [across the country]. It’s really important that people continue to do that.
‘This is likely to be a bit of a pattern as we move forward. So we need the public to do everything they have been doing in sticking to the rules but in those particular areas, being particularly careful. And we will be continuing to monitor it.’
Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE’s Covid strategic response director, said: ‘The way to limit the spread of all variants is the same and although we are all enjoying slightly more freedom, the virus is still with us.
‘Keep your distance, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, cover your nose and mouth when inside and keep buildings well ventilated and meet people from other households outside.
‘If you are told to get a test, if you have any symptoms at all or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, please make sure you get tested too.’
She said the decision to upgrade B.1.617.2 to a ‘variant of concern’ was because data shows it is more transmissible.
But PHE said there is currently no proof that any of the variants are deadlier or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.
Urgent laboratory tests are being carried out to ‘better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus’, the agency said.
It also revealed the majority of the cases being detected were in just two areas — the North West (mainly Bolton) and London.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘Working in partnership with Bolton Council, NHS Test and Trace is providing additional testing and genomic sequencing in targeted areas within the BL3 postcode in Bolton.
‘Everybody who resides or works in these postcodes is strongly encouraged to take a COVID-19 PCR test, whether they are showing symptoms or not.
‘Enhanced contact tracing will be used for individuals testing positive with a variant of concern. In these instances, contact tracers will look back over an extended period in order to determine the route of transmission.
‘By using PCR testing, positive results can be sent for genomic sequencing at specialist laboratories, helping us to identify variant of concern cases and their spread.
‘People with symptoms should book a free test online or by phone so they can get tested at a testing site or have a testing kit sent to them at home. Those without symptoms should visit the local authority website for more information.’
Boris Johnson (pictured celebrating the Tories’ by-election win on Jacksons Wharf with Hartlepool MP Jill Mortimer this morning) has pledged ‘absolutely ruthless’ tracking of India’s mutant Covid strain after health chief today officially declared it a ‘variant of concern’
Data modelled by Professor Christina Pagel suggested the variants now account for 10 per cent of Covid cases in London, and between 5 and 7 per cent of cases in the South East and East Midlands
APRIL 17: In the most recent data, the variant – now split into three recognisable strains – has been found in dozens of areas and accounted for 2.4 per cent of all positive tests sampled
Data on April 3 (left) show how just a handful of boroughs had spotted cases of the Indian variants. By a week later (right) the variant had spread to more areas and started to take off in London
Reflecting on the strain’s upgrade to ‘variant of concern’ on Twitter, Dr Robinson said: ‘A *political* decision will be made. Risk of Roadmap Step 3 is clear.
‘It would be prudent to delay the reopening to see how outbreaks spread or do not spread in the weeks ahead. Otherwise deprived, ethnic, urban communities may suffer disproportionately.’
But the Prime Minister yesterday said: ‘I think it’s been very important for our country that we’re able to get through Covid as fast as we can. I think we’ve got to always bear in mind that this thing isn’t over.
‘I think the epidemiology is very encouraging at the moment but we’ve got to continue to be cautious, and we will continue with the cautious but irreversible steps of the road map. I can’t see any reason now to delay any of the steps that we’ve got ahead of us, but that’s going to be our programme.’
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