The South Asian nation was added to the UK’s travel ‘red list’ on April 23 despite previous concerns over the new strain, which is now set to become the most dominant in Britain.
While travel from neighbouring Pakistan was banned from April 9, the Prime Minister kept borders between India and the UK open for a further fortnight, with as many as 8,000 people flying in from the Covid hotspot between April 12 and 26.
New data reveals that at least 122 people brought the Indian variant to Britain from New Dehli and Mumbai between late March and the end of April.
Four people died in the UK between May 5 and 12 after becoming infected with the strain.
Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner tweeted last night: ‘Boris Johnson’s decision to yet again refuse to learn from his mistakes and leave the borders open to arrivals from India without hotel quarantine is looking more and more reckless, misguided and dangerous by the hour.’
Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, added: ‘Boris Johnson must take responsibility for the failure to prevent the Indian variant taking root in the UK.
‘Once again the Government acted too late, and the country is sadly paying the price.’
During his Downing Street press conference last night, Johnson said that between March and April, the variant of greater concern was from South Africa, not India.
‘Don’t forget everyone coming from India, or indeed anywhere else, had to face very tough quarantine rules,’ he said.
‘We are concerned about this variant and we do think, I think, that it certainly may cause disruption to our attempts to continue down the road map, but they don’t at the moment, change the assessment about (the next) step.’
Johnson strongly advised people ‘think twice’ before travelling to areas with higher incidences of the Indian variant and to ‘exercise their discretion and judgement in a way I’m sure that they have been throughout this pandemic’.
Professor Wei Shen Lim, Covid-19 chairman for JCVI, said: ‘Due to the rapid rise in cases of the B1.617.2 variant of concern and notable transmission in parts of the country, the JCVI advises that every effort is made to promote vaccine uptake in those who remain unvaccinated in priority cohorts 1 to 9 – these people remain at highest risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19.
‘Where vaccine supply allows, particularly in areas where B1.617.2 is a major threat, the second dose of vaccine should be brought forward from 12 to eight weeks. This is only possible because everyone in the Phase 1 priority groups has already been offered a first dose.
‘Alongside these measures, the vaccine programme should continue to be rolled out as quickly as possible. The capacity of vaccination centres should be maximised to enable rapid rollout.’
The Indian variant is feared to be up to 50% more transmissible than the Kent strain and already has a stronghold in areas in the North West, such as Blackburn and Bolton.
Professor Chris Whitty said last night that it is expected to become the dominant strain in the UK, with Johnson warning it could make plans to end restrictions on June 21 ‘more difficult.’
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘People across the country will be deeply concerned and tonight’s news brings into sharp focus Boris Johnson’s reckless failure to protect our borders in this crisis.
‘Only a few weeks ago we urged Matt Hancock to designate this a variant of concern and respond with speed and resolve.’
It comes as the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O) warned the Indian variant could cause a ‘significant resurgence’ of the virus, as ‘there are still too few adults vaccinated’ to stop its progress.
The expert body warned that if no restrictions are set in place and if transmissibility is between 40% and 50% higher than the Kent strain, peak hospitalisations from the virus would be ‘similar or larger’ than the waves in spring in 2020 and January 2021.
According to Public Health England, the number of Indian variant cases doubled in a week on Thursday, climbing from 520 to 1,313. However it added that the overall risk remains low.
In a bid to reduce its spread, Johnson announced last night that all over-50s and the clinically vulnerable can receive their second jab three weeks earlier.
Greater Manchester is asking for permission to rollout vaccines to all age groups while a pharmacy in Sefton on Merseyside is ignoring government advice and offering jabs to anyone over the age of 18.
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