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17th May 2021

Top scientist warns against meeting indoors amid concerns of Indian variant ‘domination’

Danny Jones

A senior SAGE member has described the latest relaxation of lockdown as the ‘most difficult policy decision of the last 15 months’

As groups of six are once again allowed to meet indoors today (May 17th), fears over a resurgence in Covid-19 cases are once again rising, especially given the growing concerns around the rampant B.1.617.2 Indian variant of the virus.

In his update on Friday, May 14th, Boris Johnson stated that although variants are being monitored and that the nation must proceed with caution, the scheduled relaxation of lockdown rules would go ahead.

However, he was quick to admit that this could be followed by a spike in numbers, as thousands of cases of the Indian variant have been identified in Britain, with four deaths for the specific strain already.

That being said, it is clear that this latest change in restrictions is a tentative one, with not everyone in the scientific community as convinced. In particular, Sir Jeremy Farrar – a member of the government’s independent scientific advisory group Sage – said the lifting of the rules was the “most difficult policy decision of the last 15 months or so. It is very, very finely balanced.”

He told BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme that the variant, which is thought to be significantly more transmissible than SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus as we commonly know it), “is becoming dominant in parts of the UK [even though] vaccination across the country has been extraordinary successful.”

He went on to state that he believes the shift to meeting indoors will be met with a spike but that the crucial element is whether or not these will lead to hospitalisations, as the government continues to stress the need of protecting the NHS:

“I think we will see an increase of cases and infections over the coming weeks as some of the restrictions are lifted, but the key question is whether we have decoupled increased transmission in the number of people who do get infected from the number of people who get ill and need to go to hospital.”

The PM has already admitted that disruption to further relaxation in June could be caused by new variants, with many criticising him for his lack of urgency in implementing an Indian travel ban, despite the country having been crippled by B.1.617.2 for some time now.

Sage has said that while there is currently no information to suggest that the Indian variant causes more any more serious health risks to individuals than Covid-19 proper, nor that our vaccines won’t be as effective, it is believed to spread much quicker and, therefore, this next step out of lockdown needs to be taken very carefully.