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Vaccines prevent 97 per cent of infections from Indian variant, scientists say 

The coronavirus vaccines are 97 per cent effective against infection from the Indian variant, data suggests.

A study of more than 3,000 healthcare workers in India found those given one dose of AstraZeneca’s jab enjoyed 97.38 per cent protection from infection. 

Their risk of being hospitalised with the strain was just 0.06 per cent, according to the research at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi

Early real-world data from Britain’s vaccine rollout also suggests the vaccines are preventing Indian variant cases from falling severely ill.

While the UK has recorded more than 1,313 cases of the new strain, the Government said it is not aware of anyone who has died after being given both jabs. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed over the weekend that, of the 18 people hospitalised with the variant in hotspot Bolton, just one person was fully vaccinated, although most were eligible. 

Mr Hancock said the fully-vaccinated patient had been ‘very frail’ and therefore vulnerable to infection. Another five of the patients had only received their first jab.

Meanwhile, a SAGE member today said that data from lab studies into the effectiveness of vaccines on the new strain were ‘rather promising’. 

Sir John Bell, from the University of Oxford which is conducting the research, said the new variant appeared to slightly reduce the ability to neutralise the virus, but added that it was ‘not very great’.  

The coronavirus vaccines appear to be 97 per cent effective against infection from the new Indian variant that has hit areas of England such as Bolton. Pictured: Thousands queue at the Essa Academy for a jab

On Saturday, thousands of residents queued outside a mobile jabs centre to get a jab after it emerged there were 4,000 available that had to be used on the day

On Saturday, thousands of residents queued outside a mobile jabs centre to get a jab after it emerged there were 4,000 available that had to be used on the day

Health Secretary Matt Hancock today said out of the 18 cases in Bolton hospitals – Britain's worst hotspot – just one person was fully vaccinated, although most were eligible

Health Secretary Matt Hancock today said out of the 18 cases in Bolton hospitals – Britain’s worst hotspot – just one person was fully vaccinated, although most were eligible

The Indian study of 3,235 healthcare workers given at least one dose of AstraZeneca found 85 symptomatic cases of Covid, with just two of those being hospitalised. 

The study at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi had not recorded any deaths or ICU admissions among vaccinated patients. Researchers said the study highlighted the power of vaccination. 

Dr Anupam Sibal, group medical director, told the Telegraph: ‘Our study demonstrated that 97.38 per cent of those vaccinated were protected from an infection and hospitalisation rate was only 0.06 per cent.’ 

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, said his team’s research into the variant suggested it was no more vaccine-resistant than other strains already in circulation.

SAGE scientists urge caution as Freedom Day dawns

A slew of Boris Johnson’s top scientists today warned against socialising indoors as England eased lockdown today.

The Prime Minister has also urged families to adopt a ‘heavy dose of caution’ and a minister encouraged revellers to avoid ‘excessive drinking’ amid an eight per cent rise in infections in a week and concerns the total scrapping of restrictions on June 21 is under threat.

Last night thousands of people queued across the UK to enjoy a drink with friends inside pubs and bars after midnight, while this morning around 20 flights took off for Portugal as holidays became legal again and people enjoyed a pint and a meal inside for the first time in almost six months. Theatres, cinemas and museums can also open their doors again this morning.

But Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a senior member of the SAGE committee, said today that he would not meet indoors ‘at the moment’, despite millions of people now having the opportunity to do so.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it is reasonable to just be sensible about knowing where transmission is occurring, mostly indoors, mostly in larger gatherings indoors with lots of different people, different families, different communities, and I would just restrict that at the moment personally.’ But he added: ‘I don’t think it’s unreasonable to lift the restrictions – we do need to lift the restrictions at some point, we’ve been in restrictions now for a very long time.’

Hugging is a ‘high-risk procedure’, Professor Peter Openshaw said. The professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Breakfast: ‘Some of us are quite happy not to be hugging and kissing many times on the cheek. This is a high-risk procedure, I would say in medical terms and I would certainly not be embracing people closely. I think you can greet people perfectly well at a distance with a smile and a kind word.’

Referring to today’s new freedoms, Professor Sir Mark Walport, England’s former chief scientific adviser who also sits on SAGE, claimed that just because people are legally allowed to do something doesn’t mean they should. He told the Guardian: ‘My personal judgement is that I will do things outside as far as possible. My advice is that just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.’

SAGE adviser Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, suggested people should avoid going to pubs or restaurants in areas with low vaccine uptake or high Indian variant case numbers.

He told LBC Radio he would only dine indoors if the establishment ‘was suitably organised and it looked okay and was in an area of low prevalence and the clientele was very old [and therefore mostly vaccinated].’ He added: ‘I’ll certainly hug my children and grandchildren and others very close to me. But will I be hugging strangers? No’.

Sir John Bell, emeritus professor of medicine at Oxford University and prominent SAGE member, urged people to use their newfound freedoms ‘cautiously’. He told The Times: ‘I don’t want to be a party pooper but the most important thing is not to prolong this any longer than we absolutely have to, so going about this cautiously could be quite helpful to everybody.’

‘It looks like the Indian variant will be susceptible to the vaccine in the way that others are,’ he told Times Radio.

‘The data looks rather promising. I think the vaccinated population are going to be fine. And we just need to pump our way through this.’ 

Mr Hancock on Sunday hailed the findings, and said he hoped they would encourage people to take up the offer of the vaccine as a result.

Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday he said: ‘There’s new very early data out from Oxford University, and I would stress that this is from the labs, it’s not clinical data, and it’s very early. 

‘But it does give us a degree of confidence that the vaccines work against this Indian variant, but it is clearly more transmissible and has been spreading fast in the groups where there’s a cluster.

‘That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic and opening up carefully and cautiously but we do need to be really very vigilant to the spread of the disease. We have a high degree of confidence that the vaccine will overcome.’

Mr Hancock did however admit the Indian variant will likely become the dominant variant across the UK, having already hit areas such as Bolton and Blackburn in the north west.

Thousands of residents in Bolton have queued outside a mobile jab centre to get their vaccine after a local councillor said 4,000 doses were available and that volunteers would ‘find a reason to vaccinate you’.

Tory councillor Andy Morgan made the comments in a now-deleted tweet, and later revealed more than 5,000 people were vaccinated at the mobile site in Bolton over the weekend. 

Figures shows that uptake of either the Pfizer or Astrazeneca vaccines in Bolton and Blackburn are lagging slightly behind the national average, but more worryingly the highest rates of infections are also in wards with the lowest take-up. 

Local public health officials in Indian variant hotspot areas appear to be taking vaccination guidelines into their own hands.

The Government has so far ruled out prioritising younger people in places with surging cases of the strain. 

It comes as England enjoys its significant easing of restrictions today, with pubs, restaurants and cafe allowing customers to sit inside, while museums, theatres and cinemas can welcome visitors back. 

Experts however have said allowing the May 17 changes could ‘lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations’ that is ‘similar to, or larger than, previous peaks’.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and a senior member of the SAGE committee, said today that he would not meet indoors ‘at the moment’, despite millions of people now having the opportunity to do so.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think it is reasonable to just be sensible about knowing where transmission is occurring, mostly indoors, mostly in larger gatherings indoors with lots of different people, different families, different communities, and I would just restrict that at the moment personally.’ But he added: ‘I don’t think it’s unreasonable to lift the restrictions – we do need to lift the restrictions at some point, we’ve been in restrictions now for a very long time.’

Hugging is a ‘high-risk procedure’, Professor Peter Openshaw said. The professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, who is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Breakfast: ‘Some of us are quite happy not to be hugging and kissing many times on the cheek. This is a high-risk procedure, I would say in medical terms and I would certainly not be embracing people closely. I think you can greet people perfectly well at a distance with a smile and a kind word.’

Referring to today’s new freedoms, Professor Sir Mark Walport, England’s former chief scientific adviser who also sits on SAGE, claimed that just because people are legally allowed to do something doesn’t mean they should. He told the Guardian: ‘My personal judgement is that I will do things outside as far as possible. My advice is that just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.’

SAGE adviser Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, suggested people should avoid going to pubs or restaurants in areas with low vaccine uptake or high Indian variant case numbers.

He told LBC Radio he would only dine indoors if the establishment ‘was suitably organised and it looked okay and was in an area of low prevalence and the clientele was very old [and therefore mostly vaccinated].’ He added: ‘I’ll certainly hug my children and grandchildren and others very close to me. But will I be hugging strangers? No’.

Sir John Bell, emeritus professor of medicine at Oxford University and prominent SAGE member, urged people to use their newfound freedoms ‘cautiously’. He told The Times: ‘I don’t want to be a party pooper but the most important thing is not to prolong this any longer than we absolutely have to, so going about this cautiously could be quite helpful to everybody.’ 

How concerned should we be about the Indian variant? Rapid spread could put the end of Covid curbs in jeopardy – but experts say there is no need to panic

It was a distinctly gloomy end to a week that had, at its start, seemed filled with promise. 

On Friday, the Prime Minister warned his plans to end all Covid curbs were in jeopardy due to the rapid spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19. 

The Government was ‘taking nothing off the table’ in the fight against it.

Scientists speaking to The Mail on Sunday say the Prime Minister is right to be cautious. 

Last week, the UK saw its biggest rise in Covid cases since early January – helped by the rise of this new mutation. 

As one expert warned: ‘A third wave of infections is already upon us.’

Crucially, Government scientists have said the Indian variant was ‘up to 50 per cent more infectious than the Kent variant’ – the latter being the most prevalent version of the virus in the UK at present.

A Warwick University model of a more infectious variant after lockdown is completely lifted on June 21 suggests that any more than a 30 per cent increase in transmissibility compared to the Kent variant could lead to an August peak of daily hospital admissions that is higher than either the first or second wave. In a worst-case scenario with a variant 50 per cent more transmissible, hospital admissions could surge to 10,000 per day or even double that  (Thick lines indicate the central estimate while the thin lines are possible upper limits known as confidence intervals)

Experts say the elderly and clinically vulnerable are now well protected through vaccination, but argue that a rise in cases could make the rare occasion where vaccines don’t work more common.

Experts also argue that a rise in infections could lead to the virus reaching pockets of vulnerable, unvaccinated people across the country – those who opted not to have the jab, for instance.

All this could lead to a new wave of infections – which the Government advisory body SAGE warned could be as large as the first wave.

But last night, an intriguing theory began to circulate: could the reason the new variant is spreading so rapidly in certain hot-spots be simply due to behavioural factors?

The mutation arrived via travellers returning from India, into multi-generational homes in locations like Bolton, Greater Manchester, Blackburn in Lancashire, and Sefton in Merseyside.

These regions have seen a rapid spread through these households, and among those employed in industries where social distancing may be harder, and home working not an option.

However data suggests that, once it gets outside of these communities, the Indian variant does not spread quite as rapidly. University of Leicester virologist Prof Julian Tang said: ‘When you look at transmissibility, you have to be very careful. 

Modellers often say they have taken behavioural factors into account, but it’s often not that simple.

Similar but less grim modelling by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested that a 50 per cent increase in transmissibility could trigger a peak of 4,000 admissions per day in July or August, possibly extending to 6,000 per day

Similar but less grim modelling by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested that a 50 per cent increase in transmissibility could trigger a peak of 4,000 admissions per day in July or August, possibly extending to 6,000 per day

The LSHTM model suggested hospitals could have another 30,000 inpatients by the end of July - up to around 45,000 - compared to the current 845

The LSHTM model suggested hospitals could have another 30,000 inpatients by the end of July – up to around 45,000 – compared to the current 845

The LSHTM team suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible - which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January

The LSHTM team suggested that there will be 1,000 deaths per day in August if the variant is 50 per cent more transmissible – which would be less than the 1,900 seen at the peak this January

‘We saw this with the Kent variant last winter – the most rapid spread was seen in areas that were released into Tier Two after the November lockdown. 

‘Places like London had the least restrictions, and the most mixing, so we saw the highest transmission of that variant.

‘This would indicate it wasn’t to do with any inherent genetic quality of the virus, but more due to the environment it was placed in. The same could be true of the Indian variant.

‘It could have genetic changes that make it a bit more transmissible, but without properly looking at the virus in a lab setting, it’s impossible to say.’

Crucially, at present, there is no evidence to suggest Covid vaccines are ineffective against the Indian variant. 

On Friday, Public Health England confirmed that between May 5 and May 12, out of a total of 97 Covid deaths during that period, four deaths were linked to the mutation. 

However, fully vaccinated Britons still have a very low risk of becoming seriously ill if they catch it, experts believe. This has, so far, been reflected in the data. 

While 12 per cent more Covid cases were reported last week than the week before – just over 2,200 – hospitalisations have continued to fall.

Now, a little more than 1,000 people are in hospital with the virus in the UK. Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘This variant is going to spread widely. But the most important question is whether more people are going to end up in hospital as a result.

‘Right now, there’s nothing to suggest that is happening.’

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, said the rise of the variant was reason to be cautious but maintained there was no need to panic. 

He said: ‘All indications are that the vaccines are going to continue to do their job.’

On Friday, the Government announced it would be stepping up vaccination efforts in hotspots. People over 50 living in areas of high infection will be offered their second dose of the vaccine early.

A study published last week by Cambridge University scientists, found that 33 staff members of a care home in New Delhi, who were all fully vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, tested positive for the Indian variant – though none of the staff members was seriously ill as a result of infection.

Scientists involved in the study still say the findings were ‘worrying’. Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, said: ‘We thought everyone would be protected [but] the virus was able to get around the vaccine.’

But others have stressed the need for calm. Prof Hunter said: ‘There is reasonable evidence to suggest it can lead to infections in vaccinated people, but that doesn’t really matter unless you get seriously ill.’

What’s more, there is nothing to suggest fully vaccinated people in the UK are being infected with the Indian variant. In Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, cases have risen sharply in younger groups.

But, in the over-60s, the majority of whom should have had both jabs, infections are holding steady. Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said it was possible vaccines were working as a ‘firebreak’, protecting over-45s from infection.

With much still unknown about the variant, scientists say the next step out of lockdown needs to be taken with caution. 

Government scientists say a ‘significant resurgence of hospitalisations’ is possible as a result of easing restrictions. 

From tomorrow, indoor social mixing will be allowed for the first time in more than five months.

Prof Hunter said: ‘Monday’s relaxations are a biggie. Even without this new variant, meeting indoors was always going to be a nervous point in the plan because the majority of infections take place indoors. 

‘We are going to find out very soon if it leads to a rise in hospitalisations.’

Prof Young says a slow and steady approach in the next few weeks will be important. ‘I don’t think there’s any reason to say tomorrow’s easing shouldn’t take place, but it needs to be done cautiously.’

Some have suggested the rise of the Indian variant calls into question the fourth and final step out of lockdown, on June 21.

If there were a wave, as some have suggested, as big at the first, then the Government would presumably have no other option.

Prof Young, though, doesn’t see this happening, saying. ‘Any rise in hospitalisations and deaths we see won’t be anywhere near previous waves because we have the vaccines now.

‘While it is still spreading we have to be cautious, but I don’t think variants should stop us getting back to some sort of normality.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk