Covid breakthrough: Variants ‘VERY unlikely’ to delay end to lockdown in boost to Britain

Professor Sharon Peacock, head of the Covid-19 Genomics UK scientific body, has said she is “very optimistic” coronavirus vaccines in Britain can be quickly adapted to tackle newer variants of the virus. Public Health England has warned there are four “variants under investigation” (VUIs) and four “variants of concern” (VOCs) being tracked in the UK, with scientists afraid some may be resistant to Britain’s existing coronavirus jabs.

In a boost to Britain’s vaccine rollout, Prof Peacock stated newer strains less susceptible to the vaccine show no signs of spreading rapidly across the UK.

She added new variants, even should they spread, were “very unlikely to send us back to square one”.

The professor then said: “I’m very optimistic that the vaccines will be rolled out, that they’ll be effective, and that we’ll be in a better place by the summer and autumn.

“I think we’ve got the capabilities to stay ahead by adapting vaccines, and so I’m an optimist.”

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Speaking to The Times, the head of the Covid-19 Genomics UK scientific body, who carry out large-scale SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing, pointed to the Brazilian and South African variants.

While the South African variant is thought to be resistant to antibodies, 295 cases of the South African variant have been reported the UK as of yesterday, an increase of seven in a week.

She added: “If you watch the numbers of cases with the South African variant, for example, they’re not taking off in the same way that B.1.1.7 [the Kent variant] did.

“There’s no reason for being complacent. I think we have to take them seriously and try to control them as much as possible, but I think it’s actually quite difficult to therefore predict that what you’ve seen in South Africa or Manaus is going to be related to the UK.”

Prof Peacock also argued “booster doses” of coronavirus vaccine were probably needed even without the fear of new variants, as “immunity wanes to coronaviruses”.

While Britain cannot “relax” over the risk of variants resisting vaccine, she added genome sequencing “does give us the ability to do something about it”.

Fears surged over the newer variants as scientists at the University of Texas claimed the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine offers as little as 10 percent protection against the South African mutation.

It comes after Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, shared a person infected with the Brazilian variant of coronavirus had been found in Croydon.

Surge testing will be deployed in the region, but Mr Hancock said the “best evidence” showed the person quarantined at home after returning from Brazil.

The Office of National Statistics also shared around 248,100 people tested positive in England in the week ending February 27, the lowest since the week to October 1.

Mr Hancock said the numbers “should give us confidence” as schools reopen on Monday.

Yesterday saw the UK record another 5,947 cases and 236 deaths within 28 days of a positive test for coronavirus.

In total, the UK has recorded 4,207,304 cases and 124,261 deaths.

Yesterday also saw the UK vaccine figures reach 21,358,815 first doses administered and 1,034,068 second doses given.

In total, the UK has administered 22,392,883 vaccines, and has given the jab to around two in five adults across the UK.

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