Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to everyone joining our live coverage of Covid developments in the UK.
The top story this morning surrounds concern that the spread of a variant first found in India could derail the planned easing of restrictions in England, with officials considering “flexing” the country’s inoculation campaign and adopting a policy of “surge vaccinations”.
This morning, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said that younger people in areas where there is a surge of the variant initially identified in India could be vaccinated sooner. He told Sky News:
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.
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.
Or, bringing forward the second dose – we look at all of that and be guided by the clinicians as to what we do on that.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said surge vaccination would “possibly” work, but that it was “not an easy question either way”. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
The downside of that is who do you take the vaccines from? And one of the difficulties with vaccination is that it does take a couple of weeks to work, so if you’re moving vaccines away from areas where they currently don’t have much Indian variant and that is increasing, by the time you start getting round to vaccinating that group again when maybe the epidemic, the Indian variant, is increasing rapidly again, probably you might well have been able to stop that if you hadn’t diverted vaccine to surge areas. So it’s not an easy question either way, to be honest.
Meanwhile, surge testing is under way in areas of the north west of England where cases involving the Indian variant of coronavirus are on the increase. The “variant of concern” has been detected in Bolton, Greater Manchester, as well as in Blackburn, Lancashire, and Sefton in Merseyside, which have all seen rates rise rapidly.
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 would only be offered to those eligible under current government guidance.
The area’s director of public health, Dominic Harrison, said on Twitter that the authority had asked the NHS to “surge vaccinate” but the request was refused.
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.
I’m Mattha Busby and I’ll be bringing you updates for the next couple of hours. For any tips or thoughts, drop me a line on Twitter.