Boris Johnson to hold 5pm press conference amid calls for "jabs blitz" to curb Covid Indian variant

Six cases of the highly-transmissable strain have been identified in Northamptonshire

By Kevin Nicholls
Friday, 14th May 2021, 3:45 pm

The man in charge of Northamptonshire's Covid-19 vaccine rollout says the county can cope with a blitz of jabs to combat mutaint strains of the virus.

Boris Johnson will hold a 5pm press conference today (Friday) after admitting he is "anxious" about fast-spreading Indian variant amid a doubling in UK cases — up to 1,313 from 520 last week.

At least six of those cases have been identified in one South Northamptonshire outbreak and local Public Health chiefs dispatched testers to a school in the county in a bid to root out any more.

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The Prime Minister is facing demands from scientists and some local politicians to vaccinate all adults in areas where cases are rising — including nearby Bedford — and bring forward second doses as fears of a fourth lockdown grow.

The variant, known as B1.617.2, is becoming the UK's dominant strain, overtaking the Kent mutation which fuelled the second wave of cases earlier this year.

Samples from Northamptonshire were sent to scientists at Public Health England who identified a variant of the virus, that was first spotted in India earlier this year

The Department of Health and Social Care say there is "no firm evidence yet" showing this variant has any greater impact on severity of disease or evades the vaccine but experts believe it may be more up to 40 percent more transmissible.

Boris Johnson will hold a press conference at 5pm on Friday amid growing concerns over the Covid Indian variant

A press conference in Northampton later on Friday is expected to reveal more details of the Indian variant cases.

Surge testing is already taking place in 15 areas across England with increased testing and enhanced contact tracing attempting to prevent the spread of outbreaks.

Public Health director Lucy Wightman admitted that option is being considered in Northamptonshire but officials are taking thins "one step at a time".

She said: "There is no greater level of illness or mortality connected with these variants so we don't want people to panic.

Headlines predict a speeding-up of vaccinations to combat the Indian strain

"The cases identified here in the last couple of days are part of a wider cluster that seems to have originated from other parts of England.

"So this is about travel within the country , not international travel.

"It demonstrates these variants are now part of our general circulating viral load, which is a real concern.

"We will look at testing the wider organisation that's involved and depending on the level of variants found we will look at potential community surge testing. But we'll take one step at a time.

"We're just looking at the immediate group of people affected.

"Those people have been informed and we are working with leader of the organisation involved to make sure that anybody who may have been put at risk is aware."

Covid case rates in three areas of Northamptonshire are among the top five per cent highest in the country.

Wellingborough, Corby and South Northamptonshire all have more than double the national average cases per 1,000 people just days before restrictions are further relaxed under stage three of the government's roadmap.

Those aged 38 or over are currently eligible for jabs and widening that to everybody over 16 would mean around 210,00 over-16s requiring first doses in Northamptonshire.

So far, 157,745 people out of a target population of 590,000 have had a second dose in the county.

Currently the programme is delivering about 30,000-35,000 a week with more than 380,00 having had their first jab.

County rollout director Chris Pallot said: "We don't know the details yet, but we've been blitzing vaccine since December so it wouldn't come as anything new to us and we have plans in place to cope with that."