WHO warns UK is among countries with highest spread of Indian coronavirus variant

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·3-min read
Health workers attend to a patient at the Jumbo COVID-19 filed hospital in Mumbai, India, Monday, April 26, 2021. New infections are rising faster in India than any other place in the world, stunning authorities and capsizing its fragile health system. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Health workers attend to a patient at a COVID-19 field hospital in Mumbai, India. (AP)

The UK is among the countries in the world that have seen the highest spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

India is facing a significant wave of COVID infections, with some healthcare facilities in the country buckling under the strain.

The explosion in cases is partly blamed on a new virus variant that the WHO has said has been detected “in at least 17 countries”.

In an update on the pandemic, the WHO said on Tuesday: "Most sequences were uploaded from India, the United Kingdom, USA and Singapore.”

Relatives of a patient who died of COVID-19, mourn outside a government COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad, India, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. The COVID-19 death toll in India has topped 200,000 as the country endures its darkest chapter of the pandemic yet. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
Relatives of a patient who died mourn outside a government COVID hospital in Ahmedabad, India. (AP)

Figures released by Public Health England (PHE) on 22 April showed there had been 132 cases of the Indian variant discovered in the UK, while three more cases have been found in Leicester.

PHE will publish its updated figures on Thursday, a spokesperson told Yahoo News UK.

Ivan Browne, Leicester’s public-health director, said the most recent cases were linked to travel from India, and further testing was being carried out at a city school.

Watch: Indian coronavirus death toll crosses 200,000 threshold

Despite the WHO warning, experts have stopped short of describing the Indian variant as a “variant of concern”.

The number of people who have died from COVID in India has surged past 200,000, and the country reported 362,757 new infections on Wednesday.

Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the current wave is “particularly dangerous”.

He added: "It is supremely contagious and those who are contracting it are not able to recover as swiftly.”

Health experts believe large gatherings during Hindu festivals and huge election rallies in some states have accelerated the surge in infections.

The vaccination programme has also stalled, with nearly 10% of India’s population having received one jab and just 1.5% having had both.

Following the infection surge, India has been added to the UK’s coronavirus travel “red list”.

Shoppers on Humberstone Gate in the centre of Leicester, which has endured 150 days of extra lockdown, during the final week of a four week national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Three new cases of the Indian variant have been identified in Leicester. (PA)

The move, announced last week, came into force at 4am on Friday, meaning returning Britons are forced to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

Anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.

Concern about variants of the virus – and whether existing COVID vaccines will prove effective – has led to the government ramping up plans for a campaign of booster shots later this year.

A man unloads empty oxygen cylinders for refill at an oxygen supply agency amidst rising Covid-19 coronavirus cases, in Siliguri on April 28, 2021. (Photo by Diptendu DUTTA / AFP) (Photo by DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP via Getty Images)
A man unloads empty oxygen cylinders for refill at an oxygen supply agency in Siliguri, India. (Getty)

Medical supplies from the UK have arrived in India to help healthcare facilities that are buckling under the strain.

The first of nine plane-loads of life-saving kit, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators, arrived in New Delhi early on Tuesday.

The Foreign Office said the first shipment included 200 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, which will be sent to Indian hospitals.

Further consignments are due to be dispatched later this week, including another 400 oxygen concentrators.

Watch: India receives first batch of UK-funded COVID aid