Britain’s health secretary on Sunday said a coronavirus variant first detected in India was roughly 40 percent more transmissible than the so-called UK strain blamed for a severe COVID-19 outbreak over the winter.
“That figure, around 40% more transmissible, is the latest advice that I have. That means that it is more difficult to manage this virus with the new Delta variant,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News, referring to the Indian strain by its formal designation.
The UK strain was itself thought to be more transmissible than earlier variants.
However, Hancock said two vaccine doses appeared to provide “the same protection as the old variant,” and that Brits under 30 would be eligible to begin receiving COVID inoculations in the coming days.
Last week, Public Health England, the UK’s government health agency, said early evidence suggested there may be an increased risk of hospital admission from the Delta variant.
Hancock’s comments Sunday came as the Delta variant is fast becoming the dominant strain in Britain, where cases are on the rise again after weeks of decline, prompting calls to delay the scheduled lifting of remaining lockdown measures on June 21.
“We just don’t know the potential for that to be (a) vaccine-defeating mutation and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21,” UK Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps said.
The UK has recorded almost 128,000 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in Europe. A mass vaccination campaign that started in December has given two doses of vaccine to more than half the adult population and brought new infections and deaths down sharply.