The Indian variant…

As you may have heard, there’s a new SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern (VOC) on the block. So what do we know about this new variant? And how much of a threat does it pose to the pre-COVID freedom that we can see on the near horizon?

There’s a PHE VOC Technical Briefing (#11) published recently that is focused on the latest epidemiological picture for this VOC.

  • Commonly referred to as the “Indian variant”, it’s ‘full’ name is VOC-21APR02 (B.1.617.2). We really do need to sort out some more intuitive nomenclature for these VOCs, otherwise we will continue to refer to them as the “Indian variant”, “Kent variant”, “South African variant” and so on, which really doesn’t seem fair. It may be case that the geographical region that a VOC is first detected is not where it first emerged, and giving a variant a geographical name seems to suggest that the place where a VOC emerged is somehow responsible for its emergence.
  • Currently, in the UK, the number of cases of B.1.617.2 are low, with higher numbers in London and parts of the North West.
  • There is some emerging evidence of increased transmissibility of B.1.617.2 compared with “wild type” SARS-CoV-2 (which is of course a genomically heterogeneous mix) and may be higher than for B.1.1.7. However, datasets are currently small and this should be interpreted with caution.
  • There is no evidence that vaccination will be less effective against B.1.617.2 at this stage – further studies are in place to examine this specifically.

So what does this mean for our journey out of lockdown? The short answer is we don’t yet know – there is much uncertainty. Given the prospect of rapid transmission of this new variant, it seems like a perfect opportunity for us to:

  • Get vaccinated. And encourage others to do the same.
  • Continue with our COVID-prevention measures in our healthcare facilities and in life generally. There is certainly a sense that the pandemic is “over” and it’s time to let out the breath we’ve been holding for just over 12 months and relax. Well, it’s not. Not yet. We need to continue with masks and other PPE for the time being, even if vaccinated.
  • Socialise with care. It’s great that we can being to see family and friends, but let’s make use of every measure to make that as safe as possible. Use lateral flow testing liberally, have a low threashold for considering yourself too ill to meet with friends and family. And meet outdoors where possible.

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