The spread of the Indian variant in the UK could “pose a serious disruption” to plans to ease lockdown restrictions, the Prime Minister has warned.

Boris Johnson said "hard choices" may lie ahead if the B16172 variant, which has been spreading rapidly across the country, proves to be "significantly more transmissible" than other strains.

It comes after the number of cases linked to the latest virus mutation more than doubled in the space of one week.

In a Downing Street press conference on Friday May 14, Mr Johnson said: “I’m told that if it is only marginally more transmissible we can continue more or less as planned but if the variant is significantly more transmissible we’re likely to face some hard choices.”

Impact on roadmap

The relaxation of lockdown rules on Monday May 17 will go ahead as planned, the Prime Minister confirmed.

But there are questions over Stage four of the roadmap, which is currently scheduled for June 21.

Mr Johnson said: “I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our roadmap and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday.

“But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June.”

Although the new variant could be more transmissible, there is “no evidence to suggest that our vaccines will be less effective in protecting people against severe illness and hospitalisation,” Mr Johnson said.

Changes to vaccine schedule

To tackle the rise in cases associated with the Indian variant, Mr Johnson has announced that remaining second doses for the over-50s will be accelerated and will now come eight weeks after the first.

Those who are clinically vulnerable will also see their second jabs brought forward while anyone eligible who has not yet come forward will be prioritised - including the over 40s.

How many Covid cases are linked to this variant?

A total of 1,313 cases of the B16172 variant have been picked up in the UK.

According to data from Public Health England (PHE) published on Thursday (May 13), that's a rise of 793 on the week before.

Where were they found?

The majority of cases were detected in England, particularly in the North West and London.

Bolton, Sefton and Blackburn are the most-affected areas in the North West.

In Bolton, mobile testing units have been deployed and door-to-door PCR Covid-19 testing has been offered to 22,000 residents.

Surge testing is taking place in Sefton and parts of London.

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