Covid: More than 2000 cases of Indian variant in UK as Matt Hancock says 'early data' shows vaccine is effective

The health secretary revealed that there are now more than 80 local authorities with more than five cases of the new strain

More than 2,000 people in the UK have confirmed cases of the B. 1617.2 Covid-19 strain, known as the ‘Indian variant’ the health secretary has told MPs.

Surge testing and vaccination is underway in the areas of the North West of England, where the strain is most common, with 483 cases in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.

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Matt Hancock told MPs earlier today that while the Indian variant does seem to be more transmissible, “early data” suggests that existing vaccines are effective against it.

More than 2000 confirmed cases of ‘Indian variant’ in the UK, Matt Hancock tells MPs (Photo: PA/House of Commons)

What did Matt Hancock say?

Giving an update on Covid-19 to the House of Commons this afternoon, Hancock said that we have taken “huge strides forward” in the fight against the disease, and that because of the success of the vaccination program “we can make careful further progress today”.

This comes after the Prime Minister last night called for a “heavy dose of caution” with the easing of restrictions today.

However, the health secretary stressed that people “must remain vigilant”, particularly in areas where the Indian Covid variant has been identified.

He also encouraged anyone who is eligible to come forward and receive the vaccine

He said that more than 25 people are in hospital with Covid in Blackburn and Bolton, “the majority of whom are eligible for a vaccine but haven’t yet had one.”

He said: “To anyone who feels hesitant, not just in Bolton or Blackburn, but to anyone who feels hesitant about getting the vaccine right across the country, just look at what is happening in Bolton Hospital where the majority of people in hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital – some of them in intensive care.

Vaccines save lives, they protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic.”

There is also a smaller outbreak of the Indian variant in Bedford, the health secretary said, and there are 86 local authorities with five or more confirmed cases.

Hancock told MPs that the laboratory data currently available suggests that the Indian variant is ‘more transmissible’ but that vaccines “are effective” against it.

He said: “The early evidence suggests that B1617.2 is more transmissible than the previously dominant B1117 variant. We do not yet know to what extent it is more transmissible.

“While we also don’t have the complete picture on the impact of the vaccine, the early laboratory data from Oxford University corroborates the evidence from Bolton Hospital and the initial observational data from India that vaccines are effective against this variant.”