SCIENTISTS are “confident” the current Covid vaccines will work against the Indian variant, a minister said today, as she defended the decision not to close Britain’s borders to the country sooner.
Culture minister Dinenage said there wasn’t “any proof” the crop of jabs used by Britain won’t be effective at “dealing with” the latest mutant but said the Government would be cautious.
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India has been put on the UK’s red list as of this morningCredit: w8media
The UK closed its borders to India at 4am this morning amid a spiralling catastrophe in the nation of 1.3 billion, which registered 300,000 new cases in a single day yesterday.
Some scientists and politicians have criticised No 10 for not moving to put the country on the red list sooner, imposing hotel quarantine on arrivals and restricting travel to UK citizens and residents.
Mark Harris, a professor of Virology at the University of Leeds, told Sky News the decision should’ve been taken weeks ago.
He said: “We’ve seen cases increasing in India for several weeks now and it would’ve been prudent to have put India on the red list earlier.
“It’s obviously a tough decision because there’s a lot of communication travel between India and the UK but I think it wold’ve been the right thing to do a few weeks ago.”
But Ms Dinenage fought back against such criticism and said the Government listens to its scientific advisers when assessing travel restrictions.
She said: “We do keep this under review all the time. We appreciate that people have to travel for business and that there are huge links between ourselves and India.
“The situation in India has worsened an incredible amount over the last few days and that’s why we took steps to add them to the red list. It obviously takes a couple of days for that to kick in, for the operation to take effect.
“We take advice from the health experts on this. We don’t really want to add countries to the red list unnecessarily, but the priority is absolutely to protect people in the UK.
“We’ve worked so hard over the course of this pandemic, the lockdown has been so tough for so many people, we don’t want to take these steps but we will take them if necessary.”
India is facing a major Covid outbreakCredit: AFP
The country registered over 330,000 new cases in one dayCredit: Reuters
She added: “We’re confident that the vaccines we have will deal with this variant.
“We haven’t got any proof that they don’t, but we’ve just still got to err on the side of caution and take these steps when necessary to do it.
“We have one of the most some of the toughest measures in place on our borders in the world with a three-part testing system, and all the home quarantinining that’s necessary, and of course the hotel quarantine as well now for those who are coming back from India who live here.
“This is all just part of the huge effort we’ve been putting in place right across this period to make sure people are kept safe and we keep these variants out of the UK.”
The culture minister said the fact there are now around 40 countries on the UK’s travel red list “shows our commitment to keeping this country safe”.
And she also dismissed suggestions the UK held off on hitting India with travel restrictions because the PM planned to make an important trade trip there this month.
On Monday No 10 and New Delhi announced the trip wouldn’t go ahead due to the pandemic situation in India.
The same day Matt Hancock announced to Parliament that the country would be added to the red list.
It comes after it emerged Britain is no longer in a Covid pandemic as data shows the jabs rollout has cut symptomatic infections by 90 per cent.
The virus has now dropped to the third biggest killer in England for the first time in six months as millions of Brits have now received their first and second jab doses.
Data from the first large real-world study of the impact of vaccination shows jabs slash infection and are likely to cut transmission.
Just one dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccines leads to a two-thirds drop in coronavirus cases and is 74 per cent effective against symptomatic infection.
And two doses of Pfizer, there was a 70 per cent reduction in all cases and a 90 per cent drop in symptomatic cases – the people who are most likely to transmit coronavirus to others.
One of the new studies, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, is based on data from the national Covid Infection Survey run by the University of Oxford and the Office for National Statistics.
Sarah Walker, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford and chief investigator on survey, said Britain had “moved from a pandemic to an endemic situation”, the Telegraph reports.