While millions of Brits rejoiced at the significant easing of social restrictions this week, there is growing concern over yet another surge in Covid-19 infections.
On Thursday the UK recorded 2,874 new cases – the highest daily figure for new cases in over a month.
The surge is in part down to the rapid spread in England's northwest of the B.1.617.2 variant first found in India.
Cases of the variant have nearly tripled in the space of a week.
Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian the variant would become the UK's most dominant strain in the coming days if it hadn't already.
Uncertainty of vaccine against new variant
While about 70 per cent of the adult population have had their first jab, and 40 per cent receiving both, the uncertainty of the current surge is a daunting prospect for a nation that has been in and out of lockdown in the past 12 months.
Initial indications are that the vaccines administered, including the AstraZeneca vaccine, do considerably lower the chances of serious illness from the variant however experts say more analysis is needed.
While vaccinations have been accelerated in hotspots such as Blackburn and Bolton, there is criticism the government is moving too slowly to ramp up the rollout.
Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies members Dr Stephen Reicher and Dr Susan Michie said it was likely the variant was more transmissible between people who were fully vaccinated.
"We know that it is spreading fast," they explained in the British Medical Journal.
“We don’t yet know how much of the faster transmission is down to characteristics of the variant itself as opposed to the characteristics of those who are infected.
"We don’t yet know whether and to what extent the new variant undermines the ability of vaccines to protect us against infection, hospitalisation, and death or to stop us transmitting infection to others."
Variant has potential to trigger highest daily death yet
They warned if the variant was 40 to 50 per cent more transmissible than the UK's previous dominant strain, hospitalisations could be worse than January 2021, which saw daily deaths peak at 1823.
Experts have also expressed their concern at how quickly the variant is embedding in the community, posing a risk to those unvaccinated while posing a significant risk to other nations whose vaccine rollout is lagging.
With a reopening of the nation pencilled in for June, a Downing Street spokesman said the variant could cause "serious disruption" to the government's timetable.
The UK government has been accused of acting too slowly to add India to a list of red countries as its second wave spiralled out of control in April.
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s shamed former chief adviser who was found to have breached lockdown restrictions last year, called the UK's border policy "a joke".
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