Good morning. The Covid oracle, Prof Neil Ferguson, was on the Today programme this morning and he had some moderately encouraging news for Boris Johnson and everyone else who wants to know exactly how serious is the threat posed by B.1.617.2, the variant of coronavirus originating in India. The variant does not seem to be more vaccine resistant, or more likely to trigger serious illness, but it does seem to be more transmissible, and as the UK discovered with the Kent variant, this can be worse. Last week Sage, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said that there was a “realistic possibility” that the Indian variant was 50% more transmissible, and that this could have severe consequences.
Ferguson, the Imperial College epidemiologist who heads the team that produces some of the main modelling used by government and who produced the paper credited with persuading the government to launch the lockdown last March, was on the Today programme this morning and he was asked what the latest assessment was of the transmissibility of the Indian variant. He explained that it was hard to tell because of how the variant came to the UK in the first place. He said:
It was introduced from overseas principally into people with Indian ethnicity, a higher chance of living in multi-generational households and often in quite deprived areas with high density housing. And so we’re trying to work out whether the rapid growth we’ve seen in areas such as Bolton is going to be typical of what we could expect elsewhere [ie, whether the Kent variant would have spread just as quickly, because of the social conditions], or is really what is called a founder effect, which is often seen in these circumstances.
Then came the good news. Ferguson went on:
There’s a little bit of, I would say, a glimmer of hope from the recent data that whilst this variant does still appear to have a significant growth advantage, the magnitude of that advantage seems to have dropped a little bit with the most recent data. The curves are flattening a little. But it will take more time for us to be definitive about it.
I will post more from the Ferguson interview shortly.
The lower the transmissibility advantage of the Indian variant, the less likely it is that Johnson will have to revise or abandon his plans for further lockdown easing less month, and so No 10 will be hoping Ferguson is right. But Johnson has plenty of other issues to worry about. He has his first PMQs of the new session of parliament and he is likely to face questions about the confusion over the government’s travel advice. My colleague Haroon Siddique has the story here.
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Tony Sewell, chair of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, gives evidence to the Commons education committee about left-behind white pupils.
12pm: Boris Johnson faces Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs.
1.30pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its lobby briefing.
3.30pm: Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, gives evidence to the Commons international trade committee.
5pm: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is expected to hold a press conference.
Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently, and that is likely to be the case today. For more Covid coverage, do read our global live blog.
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