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UK could push back reopening due to Indian COVID variant

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Further restrictions are set to be lifted in England on June 21
Further restrictions are set to be lifted in England on June 21   -   Copyright  Matt Dunham/AP
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The UK may have to delay its planned reopening later this month due to the spread of the Indian COVID-19 variant, a health expert has warned.

There are fears the UK may already be experiencing a third wave, with the fast-spreading variant now accounting for the majority of new cases in the country.

The government’s roadmap to unlocking is set to see social distancing and other restrictions lifted on June 21, but many scientists are arguing more people need to be vaccinated first.

The UK is one of the world’s leading countries for vaccinations, with nearly half of all adults being fully vaccinated, with three-quarters having had at least one jab.

Professor Adam Finn, a member of the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation which advises the government over the coronavirus measures, said the initial dates for when restrictions would be lifted were only given to create a "sense of structure."

He warned these were always subject to change depending on what would happen with the virus.

Indian variant cause for concern

The Indian variant has become a major cause for concern worldwide, with a number of countries, such as Germany, restricting travel from the UK due to its prevalence there.

The World Health Organization (WHO) called it a variant of concern in May, meaning it either spreads more rapidly, causes more severe disease or decreases the effectiveness of vaccines or treatments.

It is thought to be behind the devastating spread in India, where hospitals have been overflowing and running out of supplies for patients.

Some 331,000 deaths have been officially attributed to coronavirus in India since the start of the pandemic, but the real figure is thought to be higher.

The UK government will announce its decision on whether restrictions will be lifted on June 14, a week before the easing would take place.

On Monday the government pushed ahead with further measures in order to contain the variant.

In Bolton, which had the highest rates of the new variant, members of the armed forces were knocking on doors, carrying out further testing in an attempt to try and control the spread of the virus.

British health authorities also aimed to vaccinate 15,000 more in one day at London’s Twickenham rugby stadium.

The Twickenham walk-in vaccination center offered jabs without an appointment on Monday to people from northwest London, a hotspot for the Indian-identified variant.