Stoke-on-Trent ‘surrounded by Indian Covid variant hotspots’


Stoke-on-Trent’s top health boss is calling for vigilance ahead of lockdown easing tomorrow to help stop the spread of the Indian variant to the city.

Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones fears it is only a matter of time before the B.1.617.2 strain arrives here as the Potteries is surrounded by hotspots to the north, south and east.

At this stage there has been no confirmed cases of the double-mutant Covid-19 strain within the city.

However, there has been a contained outbreak in Staffordshire.

His plea comes as rule changes mean people will be allowed to meet indoors for the first time in months in gatherings no larger than six, or two households.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock has not ruled out imposing local lockdown restrictions in places worst affected such as Bolton where surge testing is taking place.

Dr Edmondson-Jones said: “We know that nationally there has been a significant increase in the numbers of cases due to the Indian variant, known as the B.1.617.2 variant, with numbers almost tripling in the last week from just over 500 to 1,313 in England.

“The cases are not spread uniformly across the country with some clear hotspots in places like London, Bolton, Blackburn, Nottingham, Aylesbury and Nuneaton with other areas relatively spared.

“Although we know there have been a small number of cases in one family group in Tamworth, there are no other known cases currently in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.



The huge queue at Bolton surge vaccination centre as the Indian variant spreads

“However, as we move to Stage 3 of the relaxation of lockdown, it is increasingly likely that we will see some cases locally as there are clear hotspots to the north (Bolton and Blackburn), south (Nuneaton and Aylesbury) and east (Nottingham) of the city at present.

“Matt Hancock and members of SAGE have warned us that the Indian variant appears to be 40 to 60 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant and could spread quickly if it gets a foothold somewhere – we know that in Bolton the Indian variant already makes up the majority of cases that are being seen.

“Encouragingly so far, the new variant does not appear to cause more severe disease, doesn’t seem to be causing increased hospitalisation and the early signs are that it does not seem to evade the vaccine in any way which is why the second vaccines for those over 50 are being brought forward urgently.

“The message is that the best way to guard against the variant getting a foothold in the City is to continue to be really strict about Hands, Face, and Space as the lockdown restrictions ease over the next few days and weeks.

“We cannot be complacent and must reduce contact with people we don’t know and continue to get tested at least once a week and ideally twice a week.

“Please get vaccinated as we think the vaccine is still very protective against this variant and many people who have been admitted to hospital in Bolton and Blackburn have not taken up the offer of vaccination.”

Latest figures show that Stoke-on-Trent’s infection rate is 26.5 per 100,000 residents with around five to 10 cases being confirmed daily.

It means the city is 89th out of around local authorities in the country.

Dr Edmondson-Jones added: “We have only four cases currently in care homes and a few cases in schools while the majority of cases seem to be from person to person within households.

“That is why it is so important to limit contact with people you don’t know, get vaccinated and continue to observe the Hands, Face and Space.

“The efforts and the sacrifices that everyone has made over the last year have been quite phenomenal and we have made stunning progress to get us to Stage 3 of the easing of lockdown tomorrow – just go easy for a while yet.”

With a higher transmissibility than the Kent variant – which drove the UK’s deadly second wave – there are fears the Indian variant could derail England’s final roadmap step of lifting all restrictions on June 21.

There have so far been more than 1,300 cases of the Indian variant found in the UK, with Mr Hancock warning it is “becoming the dominant strain” in places such as Bolton, as well as Blackburn.

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