Britain’s third wave of Covid-19 has already started due to the rapid spread of the Indian variant, according to a SAGE adviser.
Epidemiologist Professor Andrew Hayward’s warning comes despite data suggesting cases remain flat and another expert has said the mutant strain is unlikely to overwhelm the NHS.
While Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night reportedly told the 1922 committee of Tory MPs he was “even cautiously optimistic” that the easing of lockdown restrictions on June 21 will go ahead.
University College London’s Prof Hayward said the India strain “can circulate very effectively”, adding “generalised measures may start to be needed to control it”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast today, he said: “Although it was originally imported through travel to India it spread fairly effectively first of all within households after that and now more broadly within communities.
“So I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country.”
Asked if the UK’s third wave had begun, he answered: “I think so.”
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It comes amid growing optimism within Downing Street that the highly-transmissible variant will not alter the final stage of the roadmap, thanks in large part to the success of the vaccine roll-out.
The PM reportedly told the committee: “I know there are anxieties about new variants but we can see nothing to suggest that we have to deviate from the road map.”
Prof Hayward’s warning came hours before data was released showing cases are not on the rise across the UK despite a surge in Indian strain infections.
Fellow epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector, who leads King’s College London’s ZOE Covid Symptom Study App, said figures show the variant – scientific name B.1.617.2 – around 2,750 people are falling will each day due to the virus.
And that figure has barely changed in a week.
Prof Spector said the strain “hasn’t altered numbers significantly”, with outbreaks focused in hotspots like Bolton but not widespread.
SAGE had predicted a third wave was inevitable with restrictions continuing to be lifted – in particular the easing of household mixing and opening up of pubs and restaurants, as of Monday.
But it remains unclear whether the vaccination programme, opened up to those aged 34 and over today, will be enough to prevent the NHS being overrun with hospitalisations, as in January.
And SAGE now believe it is just 30 per cent more contagious than the Kent variant which ran rampant through the UK in the winter before the the jabs roll-out kicked off.
Government insiders told the Daily Mail the “mood music has definitely improved” following further evidence suggesting the vaccines already work against the Indian strain.
Ministers are accelerating the programme to reach all adults by July, with over 36.9 million Brits having already had at least one dose.