Indian Covid variant could mean tougher restrictions, lockdown scientist Neil Ferguson warns amid 'super strain' fears

THE Indian Covid variant could lead to tougher restrictions across the UK, the scientist behind Britain’s lockdown has warned.

Professor Neil Ferguson, dubbed Prof Lockdown, said the mutant strain could prevent the government’s roadmap from going ahead as planned if it is more transmissible than previous variants.

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He added that it could be another “two to three weeks” before it is clear whether the final step in lifting the lockdown can safely go ahead on June 21.

Prof Ferguson also said if the Indian strain is only 20-30% more transmissible it would cause a smaller third wave of infections than experts had feared.

It comes as another expert warned that coronavirus is going to do “weird” things going forward, and “super mutant viruses” may emerge.

Prof Ferguson said: "It's not how high cases rise, but how quickly.

"If they double every 10-14 days and hospital admissions follow the same trend, then there is a concern.


"We were expecting cases to rise as we relaxed restrictions but if they rise too quickly that's a problem."

The Imperial College London epidemiologist said the Indian variant would only be a problem for the roadmap out of lockdown if it is more than 60 per cent more transmissible than the dominant Kent strain.

He said: "We can cope with a certain level of increased transmissibility and still continue with the roadmap – but if it's higher than that we have to reconsider."

He added if transmissibility goes beyond those levels, "then we need to reconsider the rate of reopening and maybe slow the next step".

"I think it's actually too early to say whether we will be able to go ahead with what was planned in the UK in mid-June and the next step, basically a full relaxation of measures," he said.

"Or whether that fourth stage of relaxation will need to be postponed or indeed, in the worst case, measures need to be tightened up.

If they double every 10-14 days and hospital admissions follow the same trend, then there is a concern."

"We're getting more and more data every week, but we hope to be in a position to be more definitive about these answers in the next two to three weeks."

Meanwhile, Professor Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, has warned we could now see “super mutant viruses” emerge.

He said that while this would not necessarily be a bad thing, the virus would try to become more efficient at transmission as more people are protected.

He added that coronavirus is unpredictable and we should not be overconfident at any stage.

Asked about how to prepare for future variants, Prof Gupta told a press briefing: “I think that we have good vaccines, now we need to keep the pressure on vaccine designers, manufacturers to adapt vaccines.”

He added: “Secondly, the virus is going to do some weird things. I mean, this is just the beginning.


“I think it’s going to recombine, you’re going to get super mutant viruses, I believe.

“But that’s not necessarily a terrible thing, but the virus is going to do very unexpected things because the amount of pressure on it is going to be severe, so it will adapt.

“We know that people still get chronic infections and that’s how this all happens in general.

“It’s hard to say what is going to happen, but the virus is going to find ways of becoming more infectious – you can see that already, when it’s under pressure it will try and be more efficient in transmission so that it can achieve the job with fewer virus particles.”

Prof Gupta said that as vaccine coverage increases, for most people who get Covid-19 it will be a mild illness, even with the “super variants”, but there will always be some vulnerable people.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the next week will be "crucial" as trusts analyse Indian variant data closely. 

He said hospitals in Indian variant hotspots were seeing cases rise steadily and not at "an alarming rate".

Mr Hopson said: "The next seven days will be crucial, and trusts will be monitoring the data closely."

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