South African variant cases DOUBLE in a month raising fears Covid strains escaping vaccines and roadmap will be delayed
CASES of the South African variant have doubled in a month – sparking fears Covid mutations able to escape vaccines could delay Britain's roadmap.
There are now 600 known infections, a rise on from 300 last month, according to Public Health England data.
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Surge testing has been ramped up throughout England with more cases of the South African variant emerging.
London has seen a rise in cases, with tests deployed in Southwark as well as Wandsworth and Lambeth.
The government said the testing in South London is the "largest surge testing operation to date" aimed at suppressing any possible new cases of the variant.
Some of the new Covid variants are able to evade immunity from jabs.
These include the South African mutation and the newly found Indian variant, of which there are now 77 cases in the UK.
The variant has been labelled as “under investigation” along with six others in the UK.
There are also four “variants of concern” that are the most alarming, including from South Africa and Brazil.
No details were given about how the Indian variant, officially named B.1.617, entered the UK.
An expert warned the possible resistance to vaccines could "supper the UK's escape plan" out of lockdown.
Professor Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said he "suspected" the Indian Covid mutation would be escalated to a "variant of concern" as it could be evasive to any of the vaccines currently on offer.
He told BBC Radio 4: "I think we should be terribly concerned about it.
"They (variants of concern) are things that can most scupper our escape plan at the moment and give us a third wave. They are a worry."
He said he found it "mystifying" that India was not a "red-listed country" already.
Brits are currently not allowed to travel abroad unless essential.
The next stage in the roadmap is May 17, when pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve indoors and two households allowed to stay overnight.
Professor Altmann warned the new variant was being found in "quite a high proportion" of positive cases in India.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, also said the Indian variant was worrying.
He told the Times: “When you look at the South African strain it has one escape mutation. Escape mutations are mutations that make it less controlled by prior immunity.
“The big concern with the Indian variant is it potentially has two escape mutations. If that is the case then it might be even more resistant to vaccine than the South African variant, which we know is partially resistant.”
India is not on the “red list” of countries which mean travellers have to quarantine in a hotel on their return to the UK.
The country, home to 1.4 billion people, is seeing record high levels Covid cases, with 200,000 infections recorded in a single day.
Boris Johnson has already postponed his trip to India once while dealing with a surge in cases in Britain in January.
No 10 signalled that Mr Johnson was reluctant to push back what will be his first major international trip since securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union.
A Downing Street spokesman told reporters: "The Prime Minister's visit is still happening later this month."
It comes as Covid deaths in the UK plunged by 43 per cent per cent in a week with 34 more fatalities.
A further 2,596 cases were recorded yesterday – bringing the total number of infections since the pandemic began to 4,383,732.
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