A new variant of coronavirus could “scupper” the UK’s plans to ease lockdown, a leading scientist has warning.
Covid-19 infections across the UK have dropped to the lowest level since the autumn, according to the latest figures.
But Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College, says Britain should be on its guard for a third wave after 77 cases of another possible vaccine-busting mutation was recorded domestically.
The B.1.617 variant was first found in India and Public Health England reports 73 cases of the B.1.617 strain have been found, with a further four cases in Scotland.
Professor Altmann said that as a result, those arriving into the country from India should be subject to a hotel quarantine if the UK is to shut out variants that could set back the Prime Minister’s lockdown easing plans.
He added the discovery of the Indian variant in the UK should warrant India being placed on the UK’s “red list”.
Officials have designated its version a variant under investigation (VUI) rather than a variant of concern (VOC), such as the Manaus (Brazil) or South African variants.
But Prof Altmann said he suspected the Indian mutation would be escalated to a variant of concern.
He said it holds properties that allow it to evade the coronavirus
He told the BBC: “I think we should be terribly concerned about it.
“They (variants of concern) are things that can most scupper our escape plan at the moment and give us a third wave. They are a worry.”
India recorded more than 217,000 daily cases on Friday, pushing its total since the pandemic began past 14.2 million as World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said global Covid rates are “worrying”.
Prof Altmann said he found it “mystifying” and “slightly confounding” that those flying in from India were not required to stay in a hotel.
India is not currently on the Government’s “red list” for travel, which sees people who have been in those countries in the previous 10 days refused entry to the UK.
British or Irish nationals, or people with UK residency rights, are able to return from red list countries but must isolate in a quarantine hotel for 10 days.
A Downing Street spokesman said the Government’s red list of travel ban countries is “under constant review”, when asked why India did not feature on it.
Downing Street has insisted Boris Johnson’s trip to India later this month will go ahead but will be slightly shorter than the original four-day planned trip.
British officials hope the Prime Minister’s visit will kickstart trade talks with India.
According to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around one in 480 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to April 10 – the lowest figure since the week to September 19 last year.
Infection rates in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland followed a similar trend of depreciating numbers, ONS data showed.