COVID-19: Mounting calls for India to be put on travel 'red list' amid variant fears
18 April 2021, 10:25 | Updated: 18 April 2021, 15:16
There is currently "no evidence" the Indian COVID variant can evade vaccines, the environment secretary has said, amid calls for India to be added to the government's "red list".
The UK has recorded 77 cases of the "double mutant" variant, which is currently being reviewed by British scientists.
George Eustice told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday that although it is "a fairly small number at the moment - it is something that we are watching".
The environment secretary added: "I'm told there is no evidence at the moment this particular variant is able to get around the vaccine or... that it is necessarily more contagious than the others - but we are looking at it, it will be studied."
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His comments came a day after a professor of immunology warned the UK should be on its guard against a third wave of coronavirus after the 77 cases of the B.1.617 variant were discovered.
Imperial College's Danny Altmann said the discovery of the Indian variant should warrant the country being placed on the UK's "red list" - meaning that incoming travellers are subject to a hotel quarantine for 10 days.
Mr Eustice said tests and checks for anybody coming into the country are "robust".
"But, look, we keep this under regular review. We take the advice of the scientific experts on this. If the advice is we should change that and move to the red list we would," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.
Mr Eustice said he had faith in the UK's scientists.
He told Sophy Ridge: "We've got some of the best genomic studies available in this country, we are very good at genome sequencing for different variants and that work is ongoing."
However, he did point to a "wider concern".
"The biggest threat to everything we're doing at the moment is that at some point there will be a variant that manages to evade the vaccine or largely evade it, so it is high on our concerns which is why while the vaccine rollout has been incredibly successful with over 60% of the adult population now vaccinated, we continue to proceed with some caution as we come out of lockdown," he said.
This week, India recorded more than 200,000 new coronavirus infections in a single day as hospitals reported severe shortages of beds and oxygen and extra space had to be found in hotels.
The record number of daily cases - 200,739 - took India's total past 14m, second only to the United States.
The rising infections are prompting calls for Boris Johnson to cancel his upcoming trip to India.
"I can't see why the Prime Minister can't conduct his business with the Indian government by Zoom, so many of us do that these days," Labour MP Steve Reed, the shadow communities secretary, told Sophy Ridge.
But Mr Eustice said that, despite the rising infection rates, "it is appropriate" for Mr Johnson to visit the country as planned in the last week of April.
Warnings over the Indian variant come despite the lockdown and vaccine programme leading to cases falling to a seven-month low in England.
COVID-19 infections across the UK dropped to the lowest level since the autumn, according to the latest figures.