UK health secretary says cases of South African and Brazilian variant appear to be falling; German experts say variants behind stalling decline in infections

11.06am GMT

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said any easing of the lockdown must be gradual to prevent a surge in hospital admissions and deaths.

He said vaccinating all adults by the end of July will make a “huge difference” but cautioned the vaccine will not give 100% protection.

If we eased off very rapidly now, we would get another surge in hospitalisations, so we have to ease very gradually.

Otherwise we will put the health service under pressure again and we’ll get a surge in hospitalisations, and indeed deaths.

11.01am GMT

The number of cases of South African and Brazilian variants of Covid-19 in the UK appears to be falling, the British health secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

Hancock said there was evidence that enhanced contact-tracing and stricter border measures were helping to control the number of people being infected by those new variants first discovered abroad.

We’ve now got a much stronger vigilance in place, because everybody coming into the country has to be tested and we sequence the results of those tests.

And we’ve also got a very strong set of actions working with the local authorities very specifically in the areas where a new variant is found.

If one of these new variants doesn’t respond to the vaccine as well as the others – as well as the standard variant in the UK, which is the Kent variant – then, if that’s the case, then that’s obviously a very serious risk for the vaccination programme.

We’re doing a lot of work to find out the impact of the vaccine on these new variants – especially the ones discovered in Brazil and South Africa – because, clearly, the answer to that question is critical to understanding how much of a risk the new variants pose.

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