UK races to test, vaccinate as virus variant threatens plans
LONDON (AP) — British health workers, aided by the army, distributed coronavirus tests door-to-door Saturday in two towns in northern England, seeking to contain a fast-spreading variant that threatens plans to lift all lockdown restrictions next month.
Cases of a variant first identified in India have more than doubled in a week, defying a sharp nationwide downward trend in infections won by months of restrictions and a rapid vaccination campaign. Government scientific advisers say this variant is likely more transmissible than even the U.K.’s dominant strain, though it’s unclear by how much.
“If the virus is significantly more transmissible, we are likely to face some hard choices,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a news conference on Friday. “I have to level with you that this could be a serious disruption to our progress.”
He said the next stage of lockdown-easing measures would take place as planned on Monday, but warned the variant might delay plans to lift all restrictions, including social distancing and face-covering rules, on June 21.
Johnson said soldiers would help carry out “surge testing” in Bolton and Blackburn in northwest England, where pop-up vaccination sites were also being set up to speed the inoculation drive.
The government’s scientific advisory committee says there is no evidence so far that the variant causes more severe disease or that existing vaccines won’t work against it. More than two-thirds of British adults have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 37% have had both doses.
The government is shortening the gap between doses for people over 50 from 12 to eight weeks in a bid to give them more protection.
The government’s Scientific Group for Emergencies says the Indian-identified variant, formally known as B.1.617.2,...