The “lethal danger” posed by coronavirus variants could lead to a new wave of disease worse than that endured by the UK in January, Boris Johnson has warned.
The Prime Minister stressed the need for caution and vigilance as lockdown eased, highlighting particular concern about the Indian variant which experts believe could be even more transmissible than the Kent strain which swept across the UK.
Even without the prospect of a deadly new variant which could escape the vaccines currently being used, Mr Johnson said there was a “high likelihood” of a seasonal surge in coronavirus cases in the winter.
Mr Johnson warned that “new variants pose a potentially lethal danger, including the one first identified in India which is of increasing concern here in the UK”.
The European Medicines Agency also said it was “monitoring very closely the data on the Indian variant” but there was “promising evidence” that mRNA vaccines – the types those produced by Pfizer and Moderna – would be able to neutralise it.
Concerns around the Indian variant are focused on the ease with which it spreads, rather than it being able to evade vaccines.
In the Commons, Mr Johnson – who has set out plans to ease England’s restrictions on May 17 – said “the end of the lockdown is not the end of the pandemic”.
“The World Health Organisation has said that the pandemic has now reached its global peak and will last throughout this year,” the Prime Minister said.
“Our own scientific advisers judge that although more positive data is coming in and the outlook is improving, there could still be another resurgence in hospitalisations and deaths.
“We also face the persistent threat of new variants and should these prove highly transmissible and elude the protection of our vaccines, they would have the potential to cause even greater suffering than we endured in January.”