The rapid spread of the Covid virus now known as the Indian variant may force the government to postpone the lifting of final lockdown next month. Professor Adam Finn of Bristol University talks about the risks that Britain faces.
Just how worried should we be about this variant?
At present we do not know just how infectious it is and that is a cause for anxiety.
The vaccines’ ability to curtail transmission is OK but not fantastic which means that a much more infectious organism could spread rapidly despite the high levels of immunisation we have achieved. So it is a potential worry. On the other hand, it could fizzle out.
More than half the UK population has received at least one vaccine dose. Why is there still a risk of thousands of people being hospitalised by a new variant?
There are still a fair number of people in families and communities that are not very well immunised. In addition, many people have had only one dose and, of course, the vaccines are not perfect. You can still get sick and die even if you’re immunised.
When you add up those factors, you could end up with a wave of a lot of hospitalisations though I certainly hope it will not be as bad as it was in January. On the other hand, thousands of new cases is still something you do not wish to see.
If hospitalisations rise in coming weeks, will that inevitably lead to an increase in numbers of deaths?
That is a good question. In other words, do you get better outcomes when you get the disease when you’ve been vaccinated? We don’t know yet but that is something that we are working on in Bristol.
How long will it take to find out how worrying the prospects are for delaying the easing of lockdown?
We just don’t know yet just how much of a danger this is going to be, though it is clearly going to be something of a problem.
It remains to be seen whether it is going to be bad enough to derail the easing of lockdown in a month or turn into a bump that we can get over. However, I don’t think we will have to wait for long. It will become quite clear in a few weeks.