Anyone living in Bolton is invited for Covid jab before 5pm today

Britain stepped up its vaccine race to beat the Indian Covid variant today, after it emerged most of Bolton patients hospitalised with the virus are eligible for the jab but have not had it.

Huge queues formed outside pop-up jab centres in the Greater Manchester town – which has the highest infection rate in the country – with anyone eligible to receive a dose urged to do so.

Vaccinations have been opened to people aged 38 and over and the clinically vulnerable – but a local Tory councillor Andy Morgan caused chaos this afternoon by incorrectly tweeting that all over-18s could get the jab in Bolton. 

The NHS furiously denied that was the case and hit out at Cllr Morgan for the tweet that has since been deleted. 

He had claimed all 4,000 jabs at the pop-up centre in at the Essa Academy school must be used before the end of the day.

The alert sent locals rushing to get the sought-after jab, with queues winding along the pavement as they waited to get in.

The vaccination rush has been stepped up in a bid to win the race against the Indian variant, which dire SAGE projections last night warned could result in 1,000 deaths a day by the summer.

Despite the increased efforts, neighbouring Blackburn with Darwen Council had its bid to ‘surge vaccinate’ residents refused by the NHS.

It came as it emerged the majority of Bolton’s Covid patients had not yet been vaccinated against the virus but would have been eligible for the injections.   

Dr Francis Andrews, medical director at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, told The Independent: ‘The increase in admissions is seen across the age range from 35-65. The majority of patients have not received a vaccination dose, but many would have been eligible.’

Bolton has been hit by the Indian Covid variant, which now makes up the majority of its new cases. The area’s infection rate is the highest in the country with 192 cases per 100,000 people as of yesterday.

And Government scientists fear the Indian variant could be 50 per cent more infectious than the Kent strain – which models project could lead to 1,000 deaths a day, as well as 10,000 daily hospitalisations, by the summer. 

Boris Johnson has pledged to ‘throw everything we have’ at keeping cases of the Indian variant down and is set to send the Army into Britain’s worst hotspots – which also include Blackburn, Sefton and London – to hand out tests. 

The PM is pinning his hopes of beating the variant – cases of which have more than doubled in the past week across the UK – on a ‘flexed’ jab drive.

But experts fear vaccinations might not work in slowing the spread. 

Deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation Dr Anthony Harnden today said the jab is ‘almost certainly less effective against transmission’ but still protects effectively against severe disease caused by the variant. 

Meanwhile, Scottish National Party health spokesperson Dr Philippa Whitford warned you ‘cannot out-vaccinate the variant’ due to the time taken to build immunity once someone gets the jab. 

And she stressed that letting the virus ‘run rampant’ in young people who are not yet vaccinated could lead to the creation of more deadly variants. 

It came as it was confirmed a further 2,027 people have tested positive for coronavirus today – a drop of 1 per cent on last week – while seven more deaths were reported.

Anyone living in Bolton has been invited to get a Covid jab before 5pm today amid fears over the spread of the Indian variant. Pictured: A queue for the jabs at the pop up centre

Crowds of people in Bolton patiently waited in line this afternoon outside a pop-up vaccination centre

Crowds of people in Bolton patiently waited in line this afternoon outside a pop-up vaccination centre 

A further 2,027 people have tested positive for Covid-19 today - a drop of 1 per cent on last week

A further 2,027 people have tested positive for Covid-19 today – a drop of 1 per cent on last week

But as Britain's death toll stands at seven today, a rise of just two on the five recorded this day last week, the virtually-unchanged figures will no doubt come as a relief to Boris Johnson

But as Britain’s death toll stands at seven today, a rise of just two on the five recorded this day last week, the virtually-unchanged figures will no doubt come as a relief to Boris Johnson

The area has seen a surge in cases of the Indian Covid variant, which now makes up the majority of it's new cases. Pictured: A queue for the jabs at the pop up centre

The area has seen a surge in cases of the Indian Covid variant, which now makes up the majority of it’s new cases. Pictured: A queue for the jabs at the pop up centre

A member of staff brings in more supplies as all people living in Bolton are invited to get a Covid jab today

A member of staff brings in more supplies as all people living in Bolton are invited to get a Covid jab today 

More medical supplies are brought to the scene as Britons of all ages were today invited to 'visit the vaccine bus'

More medical supplies are brought to the scene as Britons of all ages were today invited to ‘visit the vaccine bus’ 

Councillor Andy Morgan shared a Tweet inviting Britons of all ages to 'visit the vaccine bus' if they live in the area and are registered with a local GP. He said the team of medics 'will find a reason to vaccinate you' before closing time at 5pm. He later deleted it after it was proved to be incorrect

Councillor Andy Morgan shared a Tweet inviting Britons of all ages to ‘visit the vaccine bus’ if they live in the area and are registered with a local GP. He said the team of medics ‘will find a reason to vaccinate you’ before closing time at 5pm. He later deleted it after it was proved to be incorrect

The Prime Minister has pledged to 'throw everything we have at this task' and is set to send the Army into Britain's worst variant hotspots - including Bolton (a vaccination centre, pictured) - to hand out tests in a bid to slow the spread

The Prime Minister has pledged to ‘throw everything we have at this task’ and is set to send the Army into Britain’s worst variant hotspots – including Bolton (a vaccination centre, pictured) – to hand out tests in a bid to slow the spread

The alert sent locals rushing to get the sought-after jab, with queues winding along the pavement as they waited to get in

The alert sent locals rushing to get the sought-after jab, with queues winding along the pavement as they waited to get in

As of yesterday, Bolton's infection rate is the highest in the country at 192 cases per 100,000 people. Pictured: A seven-day cases rate by age in Bolton

As of yesterday, Bolton’s infection rate is the highest in the country at 192 cases per 100,000 people. Pictured: A seven-day cases rate by age in Bolton

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)

RUNNERS RETURN FOR ‘TASTER OF WHAT NORMALITY MIGHT LOOK LIKE’ AT PILOT 5K 

Runners have put their best foot forward for a pilot event on the road to a safe return of mass participation sport amid a ‘brilliant atmosphere’.

The only running event in the Government’s Events Research Programme began on Saturday morning at Kempton Park in Surrey.

Runners and spectators taking part in the Reunion 5K will help to provide scientific data on Covid-19 transmission levels, with both socially-distanced and non-socially-distanced runs being trialled.

Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver said it had been ‘amazing’ to take part.

In a video on Twitter, he said: ‘It was a brilliant atmosphere, everybody really enjoying themselves.’

He added: ‘It’s just a taster really of what normality might look like again, just amazing.

‘So well done to Surrey for hosting it and well done to all the runners for participating.’

All those in attendance had to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 lateral flow test and were asked to take a PCR test both on Saturday and five days later.

Approximately 1,000 socially-distanced runners were to set off at regular intervals in the first group of races, watched by a socially-distanced crowd of spectators.

Some 1,000 runners were then set to take part in a non-socially distanced 5K, with onlookers also not required to keep apart.

Organiser Hugh Brasher, the event director of London Marathon Events, took part in the non-socially distanced run and said it had felt ‘surprisingly normal’.

He said: ‘After 16 months of not being with people, to be with people felt… I thought it would feel different and it didn’t, and it was lovely to be able to do it and get inspired to run faster than I’ve run in quite a number of years.’

Mr Brasher, who completed the 5k in less than 19 minutes, said it had been ‘brilliant to see that it was such a diversity of abilities doing the event’, from the fastest runners to people walking.

He added: ‘I thought I would feel a bit of trepidation on the start line but I was surprised at how normal it felt. Everyone was just looking around, chatting as they normally would before a start.’

Mr Brasher is hoping the pilot will help see the return of all kinds of running events – ranging from park runs, the Great North Run or the London Marathon – to the sporting calendar.

He described the Government’s aim of all adults having been offered their first vaccine by the end of July as something he is ‘incredibly hopeful about’.

He added: ‘And (I’m) hopeful that events such as these can happen in the future, because for everyone’s mental, physical health and overall wellbeing it’s so important.’

Sports Minister Nigel Huddlestone said the Reunion 5k could help provide ‘essential data on the safe return of mass participation events’.

He added: ‘It’s fantastic to see so many runners and spectators getting involved in this event which will feed into policy decisions ahead of step 4 of the road map and hopefully see things like the great London Marathon return with crowds.’

Oliver Dowden today warned theatres, sports and music venues that the UK is entering a ‘period of heightened vigilance’ as the Indian variant threatens the return of live events. 

The Culture Secretary said the Government will continue to assess the spread of the variant in the coming weeks and update venues on their reopening.

Mr Dowden wrote on Twitter:  ‘The crucial road map date for theatres, music venues and sports has always been step four, so I understand this is an anxious time as we assess the situation over the next couple of weeks.

‘We continue to make good progress with the vaccine rollout and with testing the safe return of audiences through the Events Research Programme, but must accept we enter a period of heightened vigilance with the new fast-moving variant.

‘We will keep engaging with, and updating, organisations to allow everyone to plan their full reopening.’

Mr Johnson has warned England will face ‘hard choices’ if the Indian variant turns out to be much more transmissible than others.

But even so, he announced last night that Britain will press ahead with plans for indoor drinking and dining next week – with ministers today insisting the rule change is the ‘safe and right thing to do’.

Second doses of vaccines will be accelerated for the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable across the country, so they are given eight weeks after the first dose instead of the current 12 weeks. 

He also stressed that while the vaccine protects against ‘severe disease’ – therefore helping keep hospitalisation and death rates down – countless vulnerable people and over 50s still haven’t had the jab at all. 

At present the variant is spreading among unvaccinated younger age groups while cases remain lower among older vaccinated people. 

Although the most vulnerable people in Britain are protected against the variant by the vaccine, if it is allowed to spread uncontrolled among unvaccinated younger people it could still cause thousands of deaths and  hospitalisations in a third wave potentially more serious than Britain’s first and second. 

SAGE calculations upon which lockdown easing were based factored in the Kent variant but not a faster spreading strain. 

Dr Whitford told Radio 4’s Any Questions?: ‘If you think its a speeding train that’s heading down the track towards you, you get out of the way now. You don’t wait to see whether it changes on to another line.’

She added: ‘Yes, at the beginning there was no handbook. People were finding their way. But last summer, Scotland particularly but actually most of the UK got cases right down and then everyone was encourage to go on holiday.

‘And we already brought new strains in and the second wave kicked off.

‘There was a delay in six weeks of the Prime Minister putting lockdown in the south east of England and that is what allowed the Kent variant to evolve. And that hasn’t just taken over in the UK, that is what drove the second and third waves across Europe.

‘And now we have this Indian variant which there is clearly a significant suspicion that it is more infectious yet again and that is going to affect younger people. 

‘And its fine to say they’re not in hospital. And the vaccine does appear to be helping people.  

‘We’re not seeing a surge in deaths or hospitalisations, but if you allow [the Indian variant] to run rampant in younger people, you will actually generate more domestic new variants and you mustn’t forget long Covid is affecting younger people as well.’ 

   

Poeple living in Bolton were invited to 'visit the vaccine bus', though there was confusion over who was able to receive a jab

Poeple living in Bolton were invited to ‘visit the vaccine bus’, though there was confusion over who was able to receive a jab

A NHS worker stands outside as members of the public living in Bolton arrive to receive their coronavirus vaccine this afternoon

A NHS worker stands outside as members of the public living in Bolton arrive to receive their coronavirus vaccine this afternoon 

Hundreds of people queue on the streets of Bolton this afternoon as part of efforts to speed up Britain's vaccine race

Hundreds of people queue on the streets of Bolton this afternoon as part of efforts to speed up Britain’s vaccine race

People use their umbrellas to shelter from the rain as they line up outside the pop-up centre and prepare to be vaccinated

People use their umbrellas to shelter from the rain as they line up outside the pop-up centre and prepare to be vaccinated

A healthcare worker administers a coronavirus injection as hundreds arrive to the pop-up centre today

A healthcare worker administers a coronavirus injection as hundreds arrive to the pop-up centre today

A man receives his Covid vaccination at a pop up centre at the Essa Academy school in Bolton earlier this afternoon

A man receives his Covid vaccination at a pop up centre at the Essa Academy school in Bolton earlier this afternoon

A man gets his Covid vaccination in Bolton. The area has surge in cases of the Indian coronavirus variant

A man gets his Covid vaccination in Bolton. The area has surge in cases of the Indian coronavirus variant

People wear face masks and carry umbrellas as they wait to have their coronavirus injections in Bolton today

People wear face masks and carry umbrellas as they wait to have their coronavirus injections in Bolton today 

The alert sent locals rushing to get the sought-after jab, with queues winding along the pavement as they waited to get in

The alert sent locals rushing to get the sought-after jab, with queues winding along the pavement as they waited to get in

Members of the public wait outside the pop-up centre as the city races to vaccinate all those living in the area

Members of the public wait outside the pop-up centre as the city races to vaccinate all those living in the area

A worker directs a patient to a Covid vaccination centre in Bolton. The area is also undergoing surge testing

A worker directs a patient to a Covid vaccination centre in Bolton. The area is also undergoing surge testing

Security are seen directing people in cars as they wait to have their vaccination outside Essa Academy

Security are seen directing people in cars as they wait to have their vaccination outside Essa Academy

Hundreds across the city of Bolton rushed to get the sought-after jab, with queues winding along the pavement

Hundreds across the city of Bolton rushed to get the sought-after jab, with queues winding along the pavement 

Boris Johnson announced last night that Britain will press ahead with plans for indoor drinking and dining from Monday – with ministers today insisting the rule change is the ‘safe and right thing to do’ 

UK records another 2,027 Covid cases in 1% fall on last week as death toll rises by 7 as fears grow over spread of Indian variant 

A further 2,027 people have tested positive for Covid-19 today – a drop of 1 per cent on last week. 

Today’s case total – 20 fewer than the 2,047 recorded last Saturday – come as fears continue to grow about the Indian Covid variant spreading rapidly in parts of the UK.

But as Britain’s death toll stands at seven today, a rise of just two on the five recorded this day last week, the virtually-unchanged figures will no doubt come as a relief to Boris Johnson.

The PM has been criticised for his response to the B.1.617.2 strain – also known as the Indian variant due to its country of origin.

A health minister was today forced to defend the Government’s delay in shutting Britain’s borders with India.

The Government comes under fire for ‘inexplicable delays’ in reacting to the spread of the deadly variant abroad. 

Edward Argar said the decision to keep India off the ‘red list’ until April 23, two weeks after its neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh were added, was ‘based on evidence’.

Dr Whitford stressed that the ‘vaccine doesn’t work for two to three weeks’, adding: ‘This variant is trebling every week. You cannot out-vaccinate the variant.’

She urged the government to put the most-affected areas into ‘tighter restrictions’ to slow the spread of the Indian variant because jabs take two to three weeks to be effective. 

BMA public health medicine committee co-chairman Dr Jarvis today said the number of people still without the protection of a vaccine – and the rapid spread of the Indian variant – means the ‘utmost caution’ should be taken when lockdown restrictions ease. 

The Prime Minister will send in troops to help surge-testing efforts in Bolton – which is fighting a spike in infections almost ten times higher than the UK average – and neighbouring Blackburn. 

Images from Bolton today showed deserted streets as locals opted to stay indoors as cases surged. Those who did venture out were seen wearing masks.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today Programme, Dr Harnden said: ‘This is a clearly more-transmissible virus, this B617 which originated in India. 

‘And the vaccines may be less effective against mild disease but we don’t think they’re less effective against severe disease. In combination with being less effective against mild disease, they’re almost certainly less effective against transmission. 

‘We’ve got a very successful programme at the moment in preventing severe disease and we have had a key focus on hospitalisations and deaths. 

‘So we believe vaccinating those in at-risk groups who are currently unvaccinated, and bringing forward that second dose in the over 50s by four weeks, is a better strategy. 

‘And the reason that we think this is because if we immunise 18 to 29 year olds for instance in these areas, we would be taking vaccines from somebody else in the country. 

Bolton Council workers distributing surge Covid testing kits to shops in the Daubhill area of Bolton, Lancashire, today

Bolton Council workers distributing surge Covid testing kits to shops in the Daubhill area of Bolton, Lancashire, today

Leicester City fans heading to the FA Cup final are seen walking outside Wembley Stadium on Saturday afternoon

Leicester City fans heading to the FA Cup final are seen walking outside Wembley Stadium on Saturday afternoon

21,000 spectators will be inside Wembley to watch the showpiece event in the English football calendar on Saturday night

21,000 spectators will be inside Wembley to watch the showpiece event in the English football calendar on Saturday night

Leicester supporters Gurmukh Singh and his nephew Arjun Singh make the walks along Wembley Way towards the stadium

Leicester supporters Gurmukh Singh and his nephew Arjun Singh make the walks along Wembley Way towards the stadium

‘The vaccines may be less effective against transmission – as I said – and actually the immunity takes a number of weeks to develop.

‘So it’s not a very good strategy for preventing transmission.’

He stressed that the country can ‘cope with infection rates in the community providing we don’t get our hospitals overwhelmed’.

Meanwhile, the BMA’s Dr Jarvis urged ‘utmost caution’ as the next stage of Boris Johnson’s roadmap begins on Monday.

He said in a statement: ‘With key segments of the population still not vaccinated and clusters of variants, including the rapidly increasing Indian variant, becoming a growing concern, we must approach this next stage of easing lockdown with the utmost caution.

‘It is a real worry that when further measures lift on May 17, the majority of younger people, who are often highly socially mobile and could therefore be most at risk of a more infectious strain, are not yet vaccinated.

The Indian variant could threaten the return of live events as the country enters a ‘period of heightened vigilance’ due to the spread of the Indian Covid variant, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has warned

‘Despite having the highest rates of positive tests throughout the pandemic, they will now be able to mix in larger groups in hospitality venues without many of the mitigations that have helped to push infection rates lower and lower since the start of the year.

‘We are urging the public, and young people in particular, to take a cautious approach to social and physical contact, to continue practising ‘hands, face, space’ and to meet outdoors wherever possible.’

Scientific Advisory Group for emergencies (Sage) member Sir Mark Walport today said the race between the spread of coronavirus and the vaccination rollout had ‘intensified’, following rising numbers of the Indian variant.

‘I think the Prime Minister is right to be very concerned with what’s going on,’ he told BBC Breakfast.

‘The race between the virus and the vaccination has just intensified and there is a high degree of scientific confidence that this new variant is up to 50% more transmissible than the previous B117 variant.

‘So, if you like, the knife edge on which the race sits has just sharpened.’

Sir Mark warned people should not stop taking precautions even following vaccinations.

‘Just because someone can do something doesn’t mean we should,’ he said.

‘So as far as possible, if we can use the benefits of fresh air and meet people outside, that makes a lot of sense.’ 

Health Minister Edward Argar today insisted that reopening indoor drinking and dining is ‘safe and the right thing to do’.

He told the Today Programme: ‘Now is the time for cool and calm heads. And I think that is what the Prime Minister is showing. He’s set out to the people where we are with this. 

‘But he’s been very clear that on the basis of the evidence we have at the moment, it is safe and the right thing to do to go ahead on Monday with the easing of restrictions. 

‘And we will see in the coming weeks whether anything that emerges from the evidence changes.’  

The Prime Minister will send in troops to help surge-testing efforts in Bolton (pictured today) – which is fighting a spike in infections almost ten times higher than the UK average – and neighbouring Blackburn

The Prime Minister will send in troops to help surge-testing efforts in Bolton (pictured today) – which is fighting a spike in infections almost ten times higher than the UK average – and neighbouring Blackburn

Images from Bolton today showed deserted streets as locals opted to stay indoors as cases surged. Those who did venture out were seen wearing masks (pictured)

Images from Bolton today showed deserted streets as locals opted to stay indoors as cases surged. Those who did venture out were seen wearing masks (pictured)

Mr Argar was also forced to defend border restrictions, saying it is ‘impossible to completely hermetically seal’ the nation amid criticism of the delay in adding India to the travel red list. 

Deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation Dr Anthony Harnden (pictured) today said that countless over 50s still don't have the protection of a jab

Deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation Dr Anthony Harnden (pictured) today said that countless over 50s still don’t have the protection of a jab

He said: ‘Our border controls, for want of a better way of putting it, to reduce the risk of an importation of a new variant of the disease are among the toughest in the world.

‘I do think we’ve got the right border controls in place to minimise, you can never totally eliminate, but to minimise the risk of not just this variant but other variants in the future.’

Questioned on why Bangladesh and Pakistan were added to the red list while India was not, he said the decisions were made ‘on the basis of the evidence, based on a number of factors’.

‘There’s a number of different factors, it’s not a binary thing,’ he added. 

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on the lifting of the indoor-mixing ban, he said: ‘All the evidence so far suggests there is no evidence of increased severity of illness or that it evades the vaccine.

‘So, at the moment, on the basis of the evidence we are doing the right thing, coolly, calmly continuing with Monday, but keeping everything under review.’

Monday’s easing will allow people to socialise indoors in homes, pubs and restaurants, and will permit physical contact between households for the first time in more than a year.

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

Members of the public queue at a temporary Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Essa academy in Bolton on Friday

Members of the public queue at a temporary Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Essa academy in Bolton on Friday

Mr Argar said people should take personal responsibility when deciding whether or not to hug loved ones, when allowed to do so.

‘You have to take all the facts into consideration,’ he said. ‘It’s about personal responsibility, it’s about making the right judgment call.’  

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty last night said that the Indian variant is ‘highly likely that the strain is more transmissible. 

The Prime Minister added: ‘I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our road map and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday.

‘But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June.’  

The SPI-M subgroup said it was confident the mutant B.1.617.2 strain was more infectious than the currently dominant variant, and that it could spread up to 50% more easily. 

Increased transmission could ‘lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations (similar to, or larger than, previous peaks)’ according to SAGE, and Whitty added that the strain was ‘quite widely seeded in a number of parts of England’ and it could overtake the Kent strain to become dominant in the UK.

He warned the UK could see ‘a really significant surge’ in Covid-19 cases if it proves to be a lot more transmissible, adding: ‘That’s a really critical question to which we do not yet have the answer.’ 

Scientists advising SAGE this month estimated what a more transmissible strain could do to the country after lockdown is lifted in June and claimed it could trigger up to 20,000 hospital admissions per day in a worst-case scenario of 50% more transmissibility. January’s peak, which nearly crippled the NHS, was around 3,800 a day in England.

A Warwick University modelling team cautioned that if it was 40 per cent more transmissible the next surge could be worse than the second wave, with up to 6,000 daily admissions, and a 50 per cent increase could lead to 10,000 per day. Less grisly numbers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested a 50 per cent rise could lead to 4,000 per day.

It led to Mr Johnson pleading with the public to use their common sense, warning there could be ‘hard choices in the weeks ahead’.

It was also revealed that the Indian variant has killed four people in Britain between May 5 and 12, out of 97 total Covid deaths in that period. 

The figures saw Mr Johnson accused of being ‘reckless, misguided and dangerous’ for not shutting Britain’s borders with India earlier after 122 cases of the variant entered the UK from India before the country was added to ‘red list’ of countries requiring quarantine. 

The PM defended his decision last night, but warned the variant could ‘pose a serious disruption’ to plans to ease restrictions and ‘could make it more difficult’ to end them as hoped in June.

Cases of the B.1.617.2 strain have more than doubled in the past week across the UK, with 1,313 cases detected by May 12, up from the 520 the previous week.

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: ‘I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our road map and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday.

‘But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to Step 4 in June.’

He urged people to ‘think twice’ ahead of travelling to areas with higher incidences of the variant or staying with family and friends within those areas, adding they should ‘exercise their discretion and judgment in a way I’m sure that they have been throughout this pandemic’. 

Delay in shutting Britain’s borders with India was ‘reckless, misguided and dangerous’, say critics 

Boris Johnson was last night accused of being ‘reckless, misguided and dangerous’ for not shutting Britain’s borders with India earlier after four people died from the new Indian covid strain.

The country was only added to the UK’s travel ‘red list’ late last month, despite earlier concerns over transmission of the fast-growing variant, which has since made its way onto British shores.  

Some have suggested that Prime Minister was keen to keep relations strong with India, having planned a visit – which subsequently had to be cancelled – as part of efforts to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal.

As a result, while flights were banned from neighbouring Pakistan early last month, borders between the two countries remained open for two more weeks, with as many as 8,000 people from India jetting into Britain on daily flights across that fortnight.

Data then shows 122 passengers entering the country from New Delhi and Mumbai between late March and April 26 were carrying the variant.

The opposition is now piling pressure on Mr Johnson after it was revealed this morning that the Indian strain has killed four people in Britain between May 5 and 12, 

Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner tweeted tonight: ‘Boris Johnson’s decision to yet again refuse to learn from his mistakes and leave the borders open to arrivals from India without hotel quarantine is looking more and more reckless, misguided and dangerous by the hour.’

Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, added: ‘Boris Johnson must take responsibility for the failure to prevent the Indian variant taking root in the UK.

‘Once again the Government acted too late, and the country is sadly paying the price.’

However, the PM used his Downing Street press conference this evening to defend not shutting down travel sooner, saying that between March and April the South Africa variant was of greater concern than the India variant.’

 

Other activity in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen includes extending pop-up vaccination sites and increasing the vaccination capacity of local pharmacies.

There will also be a increased community engagement programme to ensure as many people as possible accept the vaccine, take regular tests and comply with self-isolation rules if they return a positive result.

Enhanced contact tracing and genomic sequencing to identify the variant is also being deployed across many parts of the North West.

Blackburn with Darwen Council initially said on Thursday that it would be offering vaccines to all over-18s from next week following the increase in cases, but later said that, although additional vaccine clinics are being set up, the jab will only be offered to those eligible under current Government guidance.

The area’s director of public health, Professor Dominic Harrison, said on Twitter that the authority had asked the NHS to ‘surge vaccinate’ but the request was refused.

He tweeted: ‘At the moment the Indian variant is surging in a small number of #localgov areas.

‘These areas have a window of opportunity to control the wider spread across the UK by a mixture of community engagement, surge testing and surge vaccination.

‘If the Government stops areas with high #IndianVariant cases from ‘surge vaccinating’ target areas (which will contribute to reduced transmission) – it will reduce our local capacity to control spread.’

In Bolton, the area with the highest rate of cases, with 553 new infections in the seven days to May 9, mobile testing units have been deployed and door-to-door PCR Covid testing has been offered to 22,000 residents.

A vaccine bus has been set up to increase uptake among those who are eligible and a rapid response team of 100 nurses, public health advisers and environmental health officers has been sent in.

In the affluent Formby area of Sefton, new drive-through and walk-through test centres were set up on Friday, specifically to identify the Indian variant.

Sefton’s director of public health Margaret Jones said: ‘Working with Public Health England, in response to a localised outbreak of infections and cases of the variant first identified in India, we have identified sites for test centres in and around Formby.

‘We are encouraging everyone aged over 16 who lives, works or studies in Formby to attend one of these dedicated local test sites, once they are open.

‘Anyone who has visited any venue in Formby over the last two weeks is also welcome to be tested at these test sites.’ 

Scientists believe the Indian variant is even more infectious than the highly virulent Kent strain currently dominant in the UK – but it is not yet clear by how much. There are no signs it is more deadly or resistant to vaccines.  

The Prime Minister was criticised last night for not closing borders with India early enough, with the country only added to the UK’s travel ‘red list’ late last month, despite earlier concerns over transmission of the fast-growing variant.  

Some have suggested that Mr Johnson was keen to keep relations strong with India, having planned a visit – which subsequently had to be cancelled – as part of efforts to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal.

As a result, while flights were banned from neighbouring Pakistan early last month, borders between the two countries remained open for two more weeks, with as many as 8,000 people from India jetting into Britain on daily flights across that fortnight.

Data then shows 122 passengers entering the country from New Delhi and Mumbai between late March and April 26 were carrying the variant.

The opposition is now piling pressure on the PM, with Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner tweeting: ‘Boris Johnson’s decision to yet again refuse to learn from his mistakes and leave the borders open to arrivals from India without hotel quarantine is looking more and more reckless, misguided and dangerous by the hour.’

Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, added: ‘Boris Johnson must take responsibility for the failure to prevent the Indian variant taking root in the UK.

‘Once again the Government acted too late, and the country is sadly paying the price.’ 

Meanwhile, SAGE suggested the R rate for England had risen slightly to somewhere between 0.8 and 1.1, from a possible high of 1.0 last week. If the number is above one it will mean the outbreak is growing. The R rate - the number of people infected by each Covid case - is now almost redundant, however, because it is guaranteed to rise above one as lockdown is lifted and is particularly unreliable when case numbers are low

Meanwhile, SAGE suggested the R rate for England had risen slightly to somewhere between 0.8 and 1.1, from a possible high of 1.0 last week. If the number is above one it will mean the outbreak is growing. The R rate – the number of people infected by each Covid case – is now almost redundant, however, because it is guaranteed to rise above one as lockdown is lifted and is particularly unreliable when case numbers are low

However, the PM used his Downing Street press conference on Friday evening to defend not shutting down travel sooner, saying that between March and April the South Africa variant was of greater concern than the India variant.’

‘Don’t forget everyone coming from India, or indeed anywhere else, had to face very tough quarantine rules,’ he added.

‘We are concerned about this variant and we do think, I think, that it certainly may cause disruption to our attempts to continue down the road map, but they don’t at the moment, change the assessment about about (the next) step.’ 

As SAGE outlined concerns over the variant, Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings was among those calling for caution, sharing a post on social media which said ‘the cost of another big wave is much higher than the cost of delaying the next stage of the roadmap’.

A Warwick University modelling team cautioned that, if the variant was 40 per cent more transmissible than the UK dominant Kent strain, the next surge could be worse than the second wave, with up to 6,000 daily hospital admissions.

A 50 per cent increase could lead to 10,000 admissions per day. However, less grisly numbers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine suggested a 50 per cent rise could lead to 4,000 per day. 

It came as ministers revealed teenagers could be offered jabs as authorities battle to bring the outbreaks under control, with one pharmacy in Sefton offering walk-in jabs for anyone over 20. 

Ten million vulnerable Britons are also being fast-tracked for their second Covid dose over fears the new strain could spark a deadly third wave.

And the Independent SAGE group said: ‘In the light of the new variant, we consider that any increase of mixing in indoor spaces (whether domestic or commercial) to be highly inadvisable, particularly in areas with already proven high levels of B.1.617.2. 

‘Accordingly, local directors of public health should have the discretion to determine when the relaxation of measures can safely occur. 

‘Additionally, indoor commercial spaces should only be allowed to reopen if they can maintain adequate social distancing and have proper ventilation, with a priority program of inspection developed in co-operation with the Health and Safety Executive.’

Earlier, top infectious disease expert Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, warned the June end of lockdown will be ‘in doubt’ if the variant causes a surge in serious illness, threatening to send the Government’s unlocking plans into chaos. 

Ministers are so far resisting calls to slow the roadmap, insisting the current vaccines roll-out is able to cope. PHE Covid variant expert Professor Nick Loman, from Birmingham University, said the Indian variant’s effect on vaccines is ‘not particularly concerning’.

Meanwhile, SAGE suggested the R rate for England had risen slightly to somewhere between 0.8 and 1.1, from a possible high of 1.0 last week. If the number is above one it will mean the outbreak is growing. The R rate – the number of people infected by each Covid case – is now almost redundant, however, because it is guaranteed to rise above one as lockdown is lifted and is particularly unreliable when case numbers are low. 

Another 2,183 daily Covid cases were announced across the UK, down 12 per cent on last week, and another 17 deaths were recorded, which were up slightly on the 15 last Friday.

Professor Loman said the mutations carried by the Indian strain do not seem to allow it to dodge vaccine-gained immunity.

‘The mutations we see in the genome are not predicted to have a big impact on the shape of the protein and change how antibodies produced by the natural infection or the vaccine will work,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

An emergency meeting will be held by experts at the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies committee on Thursday after it was found that India's Covid variant is now dominant in five local authorities in England. There are mounting concerns that it is more infectious than the currently dominant Kent strain

An emergency meeting will be held by experts at the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies committee on Thursday after it was found that India’s Covid variant is now dominant in five local authorities in England. There are mounting concerns that it is more infectious than the currently dominant Kent strain

MORE THAN 30% OF COVID CASES IN LONDON ARE DUE TO THE INDIAN VARIANT 

Almost a third of Covid cases in London are due to the Indian variant, official figures reveal.

Public Health England said in its latest update that there had been 400 cases of the mutant strain in the capital.  

It means the variant was behind 31.5 per cent of the 1,300 cases sequenced by May 12.

Only 26 per cent of these, or just 100 infections, were linked to international travel, suggesting it is spreading widely in the community.

Analysis by MailOnline shows some parts of London have given a first vaccine dose to just over 50 per cent of residents over the age of 40.

That is well below the national average of 83 per cent. 

In the North West, where infection rates are also accelerating, the B.1.617.2 variant was blamed for 25 per cent of cases sequenced. Just seven per cent were linked to international travel. 

It has recorded 312 total cases of the virulent strain. 

Boris Johnson has faced criticism for being too slow to place India on the red list, which is presumed to have accelerated the virus’ spread in the UK. 

The technical briefing also offered hope that the strain was still vulnerable to vaccine-triggered immunity.

It showed only 13 out of 1,200 cases identified were thought to be possible reinfections – or just one per cent.

Reinfections – two positive tests at least 90 days apart – have been spotted for every mutant strain in the country, but only very low levels.

The vaccines are targeted at older form of the virus, meaning they provide the same level of protection as to people that have suffered a previous infection.

‘A small proportion of reinfections have been sequenced through standard national surveillancing,’ PHE said.

‘This is expected with any prevalent variant; comparative analyses are underway’.

Experts say the mutant strains effect on vaccines is ‘not particularly concerning’ as suggested by early studies.

The strain has been split into three types by PHE scientists, but only one – B.1.617.2 – is sparking concern in official circles due to surging infection rates.

This carries the L452R and P681R changes which are thought to make the virus more transmissible, but does not have the E484Q change seen in the other Indian variants that could make jabs less effective.

Source: PHE

‘And the limited experimental data available on vaccine efficacy is not particularly concerning… The thing that makes it reassuring is that the vaccines work really well and we do have options in, as you say, changing the dosing schedule and changing the way we approach vaccinations.’

The Birmingham University scientist added it was possible accelerating cases were being driven by a large number of imports from abroad, rather than the virus being more transmissible.

‘We know the virus is growing very fast and particularly in certain regions of the UK but that does not necessarily mean that the virus is more transmissible.

‘Last summer… we imported very large numbers of cases from holidaymakers – predominantly returning from Spain – and that produced the same fast growth rate that we see, but then levelled off.

‘Simply because the propoulsive force of having so many imports all at the same time, and that produced that fast growth rate but then it levelled off. And in retrospect we didn’t think that that variant was more transmissible.’ 

Epidemiologist Professor Paul Hunter said that the nation faces an anxious wait to see how serious the outbreaks of the highly contagious strain are and how many people end up in hospital.

But Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that England’s inoculation roll-out would ‘flex’ to tackle the outbreak and the roadmap would continue as planned.

He insisted that the jab could control the impact of the virus strain which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths in India. 

Some local health chiefs are taking matters into their own hands and Hirshman Pharmacy in Sefton, Merseyside – one of the hotspots – offered a walk-in clinic giving the Pfizer jab to anyone over the age of 20, the Liverpool Echo reported.

Scientists are trying to work out if it is more infectious than previous strains.

Modelling by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned that if it proves to be a lot more transmissible than the currently dominant Kent version then it could result in a third wave deadlier than the second. 

No10’s scientists said it could trigger up to 20,000 hospital admissions per day in a worst-case scenario. January’s peak, which nearly crippled the NHS, was around 3,800 a day in England. 

A Warwick University modelling team cautioned that if it was 40 per cent more transmissible the next surge could be worse than the second wave, with up to 6,000 daily admissions, and a 50 per cent increase could lead to 10,000 per day.

Step 4 of England’s lockdown-easing plans, involving the almost complete end to Covid restrictions, is due to take place on June 21 if there are no setbacks.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Hunter, who has worked for the World Health Organization, said: ‘The big question is how many people who are getting the Indian variant will end up requiring hospitalisation.

‘At the moment the hospitalisation rate doesn’t seem to be increasing yet although if this becomes much more common we will almost certainly see some increase. 

‘So it’s certainly a concern. I think Step 4 is in doubt in June now, but we really need to see what impact it has on severe disease before we can really be certain.’   

Asked why June 21 is in doubt, he said: ‘Well, because if the epidemic continues to increase, if the Indian variant of the epidemic continues to increase at the same rate as it has over recent weeks, we’re going to have a huge number of cases by June.

‘The issue though is that because it seems to be spreading in unvaccinated younger people at the moment and not yet that much more active in older people maybe we’ll be able to weather it and we’ll still be able to have the step four in June.

‘But if that increases cases in elderly and starts to increase hospitalisations, and puts pressure on the NHS again then I think step four would be in doubt.’

Older people living in areas of high infection are also to be offered their second dose of the vaccine early to protect them.

It means a total of ten million people who are considered to be most vulnerable could have their second doses of the vaccine brought forward to prevent them getting hospitalised if Britain faces a third wave, The Times reported.

Mr Zahawi said that adults as young as 18 could be offered the jab if they live in multi-generational households.

‘The clinicians will look at all of this to see how we can flex the vaccination programme to make it as effective as possible to deal with this surge in this variant, the B1617.2,’ he told Sky News.

‘They will make those decisions and we will be ready to implement, whether it’s vaccinating younger cohorts.

‘We have been doing some work on multi-generational households where we vaccinate the whole household, over-18s, and of course the older groups who are already eligible.’  

Cinemas, theatres and restaurants may be spared Covid passport hassle 

Covid passports may be waived for cinemas, theatres and restaurants as ministers plan to scale back the circumstances where they are needed.

Pubs are already excused having to check the vaccine status of punters amid an outcry and now more businesses are set to avoid measures critics say will have a constricting effect on business. 

A review is expected to report on the scope of any domestic passport scheme by the end of the month.

But ministers questioned their health benefits at a meeting on the subject last week, the Telegraph reported. 

It also said that there were feared that physical passports for those without smartphones might be a forgery risk.

Amid nosediving hospitalisation rates across England a source told the paper: ‘This different reality has prompted people saying, ”well actually, I saw the benefit of it before but do we really need it?”’ 

 

Professor John Edmunds, epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of Sage, said that at this stage, efforts should be focused on local measures.

He said: ‘We should look at whatever we can locally in terms of containing the spread. That’s a much better way of doing it. It’s still fairly isolated.

‘It’s only if it gets out there and it becomes more widespread, that more widespread measures might be necessary.’

But Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a lecturer in epidemiology at Queen Mary’s University of London, told Times Radio: ‘If it’s growing now, with current restrictions, we can’t afford to be easing restrictions.

‘We are seeing rapid exponential growth. And if we ease restrictions further, that’s leading us straight into another lockdown.’

Professor Christina Pagel, the director of the clinical operational research unit and a member of the Independent Sage group of experts, said in The Guardian on Wednesday that the rate at which cases of the new variant were increasing showed the lifting of lockdown restrictions should be delayed. 

Dominic Cummings then shared a separate Tweet saying that if there was only a 20 per cent chance that Professor Pagel was correct, ‘the cost of another big wave is much higher than the cost of delaying the next stage of the Roadmap’ – suggesting he supports a delay in lifting lockdown restrictions.  

Professor Ravi Gutpa, a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, said it was 50:50 whether restrictions would be eased on June 21.

He told Sky News: ‘The problem is that (the variant) has seeded so quickly that it’s probably spread to other areas.

‘So we may get dissemination of the virus before the vaccine has taken effect. It’s going to be a difficult decision and it’s 50:50 at the moment.’

Steve Baker, of the 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said ministers should not be considering extending lockdowns.

He added: ‘Why on Earth would we lock down when the vaccines continue to break the link between cases and hospitalisations and deaths?’

The case count was on a par with last Thursday’s – a 1.7 per cent rise from 2,613 — but the number of positive test results have been rising for over a week, with fears growing about the highly infectious Indian variant that is spreading quickly.

Deaths were down 15 per cent, continuing three months of decline, and hospital admissions are also still tumbling thanks to the vaccine rollout.

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