LONDON: Britain deployed public health officials, supported by the army, to distribute coronavirus tests door-to-door in two northern England towns on Saturday in an effort to contain a fast-spreading variant that threatens plans to lift all lockdown restrictions next month.
Cases of a strain first identified in India have more than doubled in a week, defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections won by months of restrictions and a rapid vaccination campaign. Government scientific advisers say the variant is likely more transmissible than the U.K.’s dominant strain, though it’s unclear by how much.
The government’s Scientific Group for Emergencies says the Indian-identified variant, formally known as B.1.617.2, could be up to 50% more transmissible than one first recorded in southeast England last year that is now the U.K.’s dominant strain. But they say there is a high level of uncertainty about the exact figure.
Mark Walport, a member of the advisory group, said the new variant had “intensified” the race between the virus and vaccines. “The knife edge on which the race sits has just sharpened,” he said. Critics said the government should have acted sooner to ban travelers from India. Labour Party lawmaker Yvette Cooper said the government had not barred visitors arriving from India until April 23, a decision that let in “many hundreds of new variant cases... This was predictable but it was not inevitable,” she said.