Indian variant of Covid-19 - what's the situation in London?

A nurse prepares a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

The Indian strain of Covid-19 has been identified across the UK - Credit: PA

There is growing concern about the new variant of Covid-19 first identified in India, which is predicted to become the "dominant strain" of the virus in the UK.

Government data showed four British people have now died from the Indian strain between May 5 and May 12.

How many cases have been detected in London?

More than 30 per cent of cases identified in the UK are in London, followed by 25pc in north-west England, 12pc in eastern England, 10pc in the East Midlands and 8pc in the south east, according to Public Health England (PHE) figures.

On Friday (May 14), Hackney Council said both the Indian and South African variants had been identified in areas of Shoreditch and Dalston.

The cases were around Old Street and Great Eastern Street, and parts of Dalston town centre, around Dalston Lane and Kingsland High Street.

Surge testing and contact tracing is underway in Hackney.

Director of Public Health for Hackney, Dr Sandra Husbands, explained that viruses constantly change through mutation, which can make them spread more easily, be more dangerous or mean treatments are not as effective. 

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She added: "That is why when a variant of concern is identified in an area, we work quickly to stop this variant of the virus in its tracks.

"Take the test and help us beat Covid-19."

Where else is surge testing taking place in London?

There is surge testing in five other London locations, following cases of the South African variant.

Areas within the HA4 postcode in Ruislip are being targeted, and in the borough of Hounslow, targeted testing is being used in and around the Woodlands area. 

Redbridge Council is targeting areas within the IG1 and IG6 postcode areas and small parts of the IG5 and IG7 postcode areas.

In Kensington and Chelsea, areas with the W11 postcode are being tested.

Areas within E1 postcodes - including in Tower Hamlets - are also using surge testing after the South African and Brazilian variants were found in the East End.

What should you do if you live in an area where the Indian strain has been found?

The government said everyone over 16 who lives or works in affected areas should get a Covid-19 PCR test, even if they do not have symptoms, to help stop the spread of these variants in the community. 

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told Sky News the government should prioritise vaccinating young people in the areas where the Indian variant is prevalent. 

He said: "What we are saying is be nimble in those pockets where we know there is an issue, let's use the vaccine sensibly."

What do we know about the variant and how concerned should we be?

B16172, which was first identified in India, is one of four mutated versions of coronavirus designated as being "of concern", such as B1351 (South African variant) and P1 (Brazil variant).

Experts believe it may be linked to India's surge in infections and driving the country's second wave.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a member of Nervtag (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) said while B16172 may be capable of becoming the dominant variant in the UK, the risk of a surge in deaths or hospital admissions remains low.

He said it seems to be slightly more transmissible and capable of outcompeting the UK variant or South African variant to become the dominant variant in the UK, and that the "risk is of a greater number of mild infections rather than an increased proportion of mild infections turning into serious ones".

Professor Dingwall said:  "We need to stop panicking about every new variant that comes along."

He said data from India shows people who have been fully vaccinated, like healthcare workers, are not developing infections.

What have government ministers said?

Speaking on BBC's Andrew Marr show, health secretary Matt Hancock said early data from lab tests suggest the vaccine remains effective against the Indian variant.

However, he told Sky News said the strain could "spread like wildfire" among people who aren't vaccinated.

Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "anxious" about the variant and was not ruling out regional restrictions.

He said:  "At the moment there is a very wide range of scientific opinion about what could happen.

"There is a range of things we could do, we are ruling nothing out."