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Scientist tells Boris Johnson to cancel India trip over new variant fears

Boris Johnson was urged to act after a potentially harmful variant of Covid-19 was found in the UK. Photo: PA

Boris Johnson has been urged to act after an Indian Covid variant with potentially harmful mutations was discovered in the UK.

Scientists said the appearance of the ‘double mutant strain was a “disaster” and branded the prime minister “crazy” for still considering a trade trip to India later this month.



Questions have been raised as to why India has not been included on the red list of countries given the concern over the strain.

Public Health England reported 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant in England and four cases in Scotland.

Officials say the strain appears to feature two mutations that mean it could be less controlled by the vaccine and have kickstarted an investigation. 

Dr Anthony Costello, a member of Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said: “This is a disaster. We have more than 50 flights from India daily. Seventy-seven cases of a really nasty India variant that affects younger people already here?

“Surge testing without isolation support. Contacts not being tested. This is a total shambles. We have learnt nothing after a year.”

Professor Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London, had previously branded the prime minister’s planned trade trip to India “crazy” as he risked bringing the variant back to the UK.

She told The Independent: “The problem with this variant is that, not only does it have mutations that can evade antibodies, but they’ve found that it can also evade T-cells.

“And, as we open more and more, importing a strain becomes a lot more dangerous because it can spread a lot quicker before you notice it.”

The B.1.617 variant was first identified in India and has since been found elsewhere, including in California.

Experts are worried about the variant as it carries two mutations that may make it more able to evade the body’s immune responses. It is also thought it may be able to infect the body more easily.

India has recorded nearly 14.3 million COVID cases – second only to the US which has reported more than 31 million.

The prime minister has already scaled back his planned visit to Delhi, but is still planning to go at the end of April, with Downing Street insisting all elements of the trip will be “COVID-secure”.

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