LONDON — The U.K. is preparing to deliver surge vaccinations and testing in areas where the new Covid-19 variant first detected in India is spreading.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC TV on Friday that the government would “flex” its inoculation program to direct more doses to the most affected areas, while second doses could be brought forward.
In a statement late on Thursday, the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care announced that a new “surge rapid response” team of 100 nurses, public health advisers and environmental health officers would be deployed to Bolton, a town on the outskirts of Manchester, where the B1.617.2 variant is spreading rapidly.
“While there is no firm evidence yet to show this variant has any greater impact on severity of disease or evades the vaccine, the speed of growth is concerning and the government is considering additional action if deemed necessary, including how to best utilize the vaccine roll-out to best protect the most vulnerable in the context of the current epidemiology,” the Department said in the statement.
Surge testing will also be expanded to other areas across the country, along with increased genomic sequencing and enhanced contact tracing.
Data on the new variant published Thursday by Public Health England showed that the number of cases across the U.K. had risen from 520 last week to 1,313 this week, with most cases concentrated in the north west of England and a few clusters in London.
‘Cannot rule out’ new restrictions
The U.K.’s vaccine rollout has been one of the fastest in the world, with almost 70% of the adult population having received at least one shot so far. Vaccines are currently available to anyone over the age of 38, but the government has said they could be made available to younger people living in multi-generational households.
The next phase of England’s exit from lockdown is scheduled for Monday, when indoor socializing, hospitality and entertainment will recommence.
However, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement Thursday that the government is “monitoring the situation very carefully and will not hesitate to take further action if necessary.”
Along with the specialist unit in Bolton, surge testing has already been deployed in 15 areas across England, with more than 800,000 tests distributed.
“As set out in the roadmap, we cannot rule out re-imposing economic and social restrictions at a local or regional level if evidence suggests they are necessary to contain or suppress a variant which escapes the vaccine,” the DHSC said.