Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 86 UK districts have now found a highly permeable India version of coronovirus, as he urged people to be cautious when meeting friends indoors.
Hancock told the House of Commons on Monday that authorities had identified 2,323 cases as of Monday, with cases doubling in northwest England in Bolton and Blackburn in the past week.
With 86 local authorities confirming five or more cases of the India edition, Hancock said it is important that people are vaccinated. Most people known as B.1.617.2 in areas around Bolton had not received a shot, he said, and early evidence suggests vaccines still work against the type.
“The vaccination program can give us confidence but we must be alert to new forms that may jeopardize the progress we have made,” Hancock said. “We must proceed with caution and caution and bear the virus, whether it attacks us in any form.”
An England-wide ban on mixing homes indoors was relaxed on Monday, and bars, restaurants and cafes were allowed to open to customers for the first time in months. Vaccine rollouts are being changed to give more than 50 and their second dose is being given more quickly to the most vulnerable people to ensure that they are safe as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already warned that the final phase of lifting the ban on 21 June could be delayed amid growing concerns over the new version.
Hancock faced repeated questions in Parliament over the reopening of international travel, noting that many variants are brought from abroad to Britain.
Since Monday, Britain has been able to travel to several countries on the so-called “Green List” – including Portugal and Israel – with no need to quarantine upon return. But there are concerns about the lack of clarity about the “amber list” of countries, including France and Spain, which are legally allowed to go to the people but have not been stated by ministers.
Jeremy Hunt, a conservative member of parliament and former health secretary, called for “complete clarity” on the rules. Hancock said the government’s advice was “very clear”, adding: “People should not travel to countries with an amber list for a holiday.”
Hancock also came under fire for the timing of the UK’s decision to ban travel from India, amid opposition MPs worrying that the delays in April opened doors for thousands who may have been infected with the version.
He insisted that the right decisions were taken at the time, stating that Pakistan and Bangladesh had been put on the “red list” two weeks earlier because people from these countries were compared to travelers coming from India. The infection rate was high.
Hancock denied the claims of several MPs that the real reason was that Johnson did not want to annoy Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of a planned business trip. The visit was eventually canceled on 19 April, the same day that India was put on the Red List.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)