Covid third wave threat 'diminishing' but mutant variants are major concern, warns Prof Lockdown

THE threat of a third wave of coronavirus is diminishing but new variants are still a major threat, an expert has warned.

Vaccines have been given to millions of Brits to stop the spread of the virus but it's not yet known how much protection they give when it comes to new variants.

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There are currently nine coronavirus variants that are under investigation in the UK, with four others being dubbed as "variants of concern".

Imperial College London's Professor Neil Ferguson, who advises the Government and was previously dubbed Professor Lockdown, said the risk of vaccines being less effective in the face of variants was "the major concern" that could still lead to a "very major third wave in the autumn".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said that cases, hospitalisations and deaths are still falling in the UK.

He explained: "The period we still have concerns about, we have concerns about but they are diminishing is really late summer early autumn.

"If we are going to see another wave of transmission that's where it would take place, but the new data on vaccines coming out is evermore encouraging.

"Particularly the data that was released about the fact that even if you do get infected if you've been vaccinated then you are less infectious."

He said it was "much better to be vaccinating people than shutting down the whole of society", adding he was "feeling fairly optimistic that we will be not completely back to normal, but something which feels a lot more normal by the summer".

Three jabs are currently being rolled out across the UK, the Pfizer/BioNTech, the Oxford/AstraZeneca and the Moderna vaccines.

So far more than 35.5 million people have had a first dose with 15.5 million having had a second – meaning they are fully vaccinated.

 

But Prof Ferguson said it is "essential we roll out booster doses, which can protect against that, as soon as we've basically finished vaccinating the adult population, which should finish by the summer".

He added that "no one wants to see vaccinations undermined" by variants of concern.

In a statement yesterday, the European Union said it wanted to open up travel to people who had been vaccinated.

Prof Ferguson said that this would be a matter of "when and how".

He added: "The EU in their statement did have a very strong caveat that they reserve the right to clamp down again if there were variants of concern.

"I think that's everybody's concerned at the moment across the European continent, that we don't want to see vaccination undermined by things like the South African variant spreading in an uncontrolled manner, but with that one caveat if we can find ways of reopening international travel which mitigates that risk, then I think everybody would like to be able to have some opportunity to go overseas." 

It was yesterday revealed that the UK had recorded just one death from Covid for the first time since summer.

There is often a lag over the weekend in reporting numbers of deaths and new infections, but fatalities have been encouragingly low for weeks.

The UK has recorded 1,649 new Covid cases in the last 24 hours, with infections remaining steady despite the threat of variants.

 

It comes weeks before the next stage in the roadmap out of lockdown – when people in England will be able to mix indoors as a group of six.

Prof Ferguson said the data is very encouraging and very much in line with what we expected.

He added: "Whilst we're seeing cases actually plateau at the moment – and they may start edging up – mortality, deaths and hospitalisations are still going down.

"We expect them to continue to go down, maybe tick up a little bit next month but only within manageable levels, and so that puts us in a very good position to be keeping to the Government road map – relaxing some restrictions in a couple of weeks' time and then many more in June."

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