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LOCKDOWN lifting on June 21 - when all social restrictions are set to be scrapped - is in doubt due to the Indian variant, an expert has warned.

The coronavirus strain has spread rapidly and “reached all corners of the UK” within a matter of weeks.

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4The next stages of England's lockdown easing

Although cases appear to currently only be in younger people, if it starts to spill into the old and vulnerable, ministers will have to decide whether its safe to allow freedoms.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the big question is how many of people who are getting the Indian variant will end up requiring hospitalisation.

“And at the moment the hospitalisation rate doesn’t seem to be increasing yet, although if this becomes much more common we’ll almost certainly see some increase, so I think it’s certainly a concern.

“I think the step four is in doubt in June now, but we really need to see what impact it has on severe disease before we can really be certain.”

Asked why June 21 is in doubt, he said: “Well, if the Indian variant of the epidemic continues to increase at the same rate as it has over recent weeks, we’re going to have a huge number of cases by June.”

The Indian variant “clearly has been out-competing” the Kent variant in a number of areas around the UK, Prof Hunter said. 

He and other experts believe it will only be a matter of weeks before it is the most dominant circulating in the UK.

Only Yorkshire and Humber in the North East “seem to have very few cases so far”.

Prof Hunter said: “The issue though is that because it seems to be spreading in unvaccinated younger people... maybe we’ll be able to weather it and we’ll still be able to have the step four in June.

“But if that increases cases in elderly and starts to increase hospitalisations, and puts pressure on the NHS again then I think step four would be in doubt.”

A third of British adults are still waiting to receive at least one vaccine dose, therefore susceptible to infection.

And with pubs and restaurants opening indoors from Monday, friends will be meeting much more, giving the virus a chance to spread.

Professor Christina Pagel, a mathematician and professor of operational research at University College London, told Sky News she would personally "delay lockdown all together".

She said: "If we are wrong, and it does get out of control… then we are in a situation where we have to go back to even harsher restriction than we are in now, for longer so we bring cases down again.

"That seems a much worse scenario than waiting a few weeks where we are now, to be sure we can open up in the longer term and more safely."

She said halting unlocking while doing more research will "absolutely reduce the risk of having to lockdown again in the future and potentially reverse the roadmap once we proceed to the next step".

4Areas where the Indian strain has overtaken the Kent version in England. The data is only up to April 24, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute

4This map shows how many cases have been detected of the Indian variant in each area. The data is only up to April 24, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute

4Paul Hunter said lockdown lifting on June 21 is in doubt

Even before the emergence of the Indian variant, it was expected that lifting of Covid restrictions would cause a wave of cases in youngsters.

It is not clear yet whether vaccines will be able to dampen the impact of a new variant.

Asked about the Indian variant’s resistance to vaccines, Prof Hunter said: “It seems to be a little bit more resistant from the early indications.

“Not as resistant as the South African variant, but a little bit more resistant than the Kent variant.

He added that "even people who get the infection seem to be getting a much milder infection if they’ve had vaccine", regardless of the strain that caused it.

Doctors in India had reported people had caught B.1.617.2 after their vaccine, but are less severely sick.

There is currently no evidence that the variant first identified in India “escapes the vaccines”, according to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.

“At the moment we have no evidence that it escapes the vaccines or is more severe in its impact on people,” he told Sky News.

He confirmed that ministers were looking at vaccinating people earlier in the areas where the Indian variant is spreading most, such as Bolton.

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The vaccines minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme more vaccine doses have been sent to Bolton already.

But under the pressure of delaying unlocking, Mr Zahawi said that Monday’s easing of restrictions in England will still go ahead despite concerns.

The PM said he still expected to tear up lockdown restrictions on  Monday and on June 21 but will not rule out local lockdowns.

Nadhim Zahawi says govt will take 'whatever action' it needs 'nationally or regionally' to tackle Covid variants

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Tags: coronavirus uk lockdown vaccines minister a matter of weeks the kent variant no evidence younger people it seems to be it seems to be at the moment the vaccines is in doubt to vaccines paul hunter to increase i think

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PA Familys Adopted Dog From Middle East Tests Positive For Rabies

The CDC has initiated a multi-state investigation after a Chester County family adopted a dog from the Middle East that was later determined to have a previously eradicated variant of rabies, reports say.

The dog was one of 34 animals that were flown from Azerbaijan to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport by an animal rescue group on June 10, CBS reports.

The animal had been acting oddly after being placed with its new family in East Whiteland Township and later tested positive for the variant, according to ABC.

The 6-month-old mixed breed dog possibly exposed the virus variant —which previously took over a decade to eradicate — to at least 18 other people and several other dogs, prompting a temporary suspension of dogs from countries considered high-risk, the report says.

Other animals in the group were placed with rescue groups throughout New Jersey, New York, Illinois, California, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, according to Patch.

The rabies variant is easily transmittable between canines and has caused “tens of thousands” of annual human deaths primarily throughout Asia and Africa, the report states.

The dog has since been euthanized, the reports say.

Meanwhile, pet owners nationwide are urged to remain vigilant and monitor their pets’ behavior for signs of the virus, which may also include paralysis.

Signs of the virus in humans range from insomnia, anxiety and confusion to hallucinations, hypersalivation, fear of water and partial paralysis. Death typically occurs within a matter of days after the onset of symptoms unless the patient receives a series of shots in time for prevention.

The CDC investigation is estimated to cost the federal government between $215,000 and $509,000.

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