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Boris Johnson hints at ‘hard choices’ as Indian coronavirus variant spreads

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

UK sticks to reopening plan, but the prime minister warned that could change if the new variant spreads.

LONDON — The U.K. will accelerate its coronavirus vaccine push for priority groups in a bid to halt the spread of the Indian variant, which the prime minister warned on Friday could force Britain to make “hard choices” in coming weeks.

Boris Johnson confirmed that the U.K. will move ahead with the third phase of the government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions, which will see the restart of indoor seating at bars and restaurants and the resumption of travel to a limited list of countries deemed safe.

Johnson said, however, that the spread of the variant circulating in India posed a threat to the fourth and last step of the roadmap — due June 21 — which would allow the return of weddings and major events and the removal of social distancing rules.

Speaking at a press conference, Johnson said the U.K. will offer second doses to people over 50 and the clinically vulnerable eight weeks before taking the first dose, rather than the initial plan of waiting 12 weeks between doses. The U.K. will also prioritize first doses for anyone eligible who has not yet booked an appointment, including those over 40. But Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said this should not lead to “significant delays” in the vaccination of younger groups.

Johnson’s comments come as the U.K. reported the deaths of four people with the Indian variant of the virus last week. Public Health England said Thursday that 1,313 cases of the Indian variant had been detected in England in the last week, more than double the figure of the previous week.

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“I believe we should trust in our vaccines to protect the public whilst monitoring the situation as it develops very closely because the race between our vaccination program and the virus may be about to become a great deal tighter, and it’s more important than ever, therefore, that people get the additional protection of a second dose,” he said.

Johnson said the Indian variant was “only marginally more transmissible” than the Kent variant, which was dominant in the last wave of the U.K.’s coronavirus cases. But he warned: “If the [Indian] variant is significantly more transmissible, we are likely to face some hard choices.”

“I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our roadmap and we will proceed to move to step three in England on Monday. But I must level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June. And I must stress that we will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe.”

The Indian variant is believed to be spreading in specific areas of the U.K., such as Bolton and Blackburn. The prime minister said the army would be deployed on the streets of these towns to hand out tests to the public. Efforts to vaccinate the cities’ residents will also step up, with vaccination centers opening for longer hours.

The U.K. added India to its “red list” of countries in April, meaning all arrivals from the country would have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days. Johnson urged people to “think twice” before traveling to areas with higher numbers of cases of the Indian variant.

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Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/boris-johnson-hints-at-hard-choices-as-indian-variant-spreads/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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