Questions are being raised over whether lockdown restrictions should still be eased in England next week as cases of the coronavirus variant first identified in India continue to spread.
There are believed to be at least 1,300 cases of the variant in the UK – officially known as the B1.617.2 variant of concern.
There is currently no concrete evidence to show that the variant can evade vaccines or lead to any worse form of the disease, however, research into this is ongoing and the speed of the increase in cases has been labelled as ‘concerning’ by the Government.
The majority of the cases have so far been identified in the North West of England, though some cases have also been identified in London and elsewhere. Government ministers have indicated that lockdown measures will continue to be eased as planned on Monday, though some scientists and members of the public have expressed concerns that increased travelling and social activities could lead to a further spike in virus cases.
In areas known to be affected by the variant, the Government is currently rolling out surge testing and enhanced contact tracing efforts.
The latest 7-day coronavirus case rate in England is 22.1 cases per 100,000 people – an increase compared to earlier days in the 7-day period but a decrease compared to the previous 7-day period.
In Wales, some lockdown easements planned for next week have been delayed due to concerns over the Indian variant.
Elsewhere, Portugal – which is one of the countries on the UK’s green travel list – has extended its second-highest coronavirus alert level until 30 May, causing more uncertainty over whether Britons will actually be allowed to travel to the country for holidays and the Champions League final.
Since the start of the health emergency, more than 161 million cases of coronavirus have been identified around the world, while over 3.3 million coronavirus-related deaths have also been recorded.