Military will help testing in England as Indian Covid variant threatens reopening

Photo: EPA

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, AP reported. 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 UK’s dominant strain, though it’s unclear by how much.

“If the virus is significantly more transmissible, we are likely to face some hard choices,” PM Boris Johnson said at a news conference on Friday. “I have to level with you that this could be a serious disruption to our progress.”

He said the next stage of lockdown-easing measures would take place as planned on Monday, but warned the variant might delay plans to lift all restrictions, including social distancing and face-covering rules, on 21 June.

The government’s scientific advisory committee says there is no evidence so far that the variant causes more severe disease or that existing vaccines won’t work against it. More than two-thirds of British adults have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 37% have had both doses. The government is shortening the gap between doses for people over 50 from 12 to eight weeks in a bid to give them more protection.

Starting Monday, restaurants and pubs in England can open indoors. Museums, theaters, cinemas and hotels will reopen, and people can once again hug friends and family members they don’t live with.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following similar but slightly different paths. The Scottish government is keeping the city of Glasgow and the northern area of Moray under restrictions because of rising case numbers there.

Critics said the government should have acted sooner to ban travelers from India, which has been gripped by a devastating coronavirus outbreak.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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