Professor Neil Ferguson: Indian Variant Outbreaks are “Flattening”

Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College’s modelling team appeared on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning where he took a surprisingly sanguine attitude to emerging data on the Indian variant in the UK. The Spectator has the transcript.

Presenter Nick Robinson asked him: “Transmissibility is this key thing that you’re looking to get the answer to. When do you think you will have that answer and is it really a case as we were hearing earlier on the programme which is if it is 50% more transmissible this variant, that’s little short of a disaster, but 20% we could kind of live with?”

Ferguson said:

So first of all it’s never all or nothing with science, you gain evidence as the data is collected. Certainly it is much easier to deal with 20 and 30 per cent than it would be 50% or more. The challenge we have – and just to explain to people why this is difficult, I mean we’re tracking this virus you could say “Well, why can’t we immediately see how it outcompetes the existing Kent variant?” – is because of how it was introduced into the country. 

It was introduced from overseas, principally into people with Indian ethnicity, a higher chance in living in multigenerational households and often in quite deprived areas with high density housing so we’re trying to work out whether the rapid growth we’ve seen in areas such as Bolton is going to be typical of what we could expect elsewhere or is really what is called a “founder effect” which is often seen in these circumstances. 

There’s a little bit of – I would say – a glimmer of hope from the recent data that while this variant does still appear to have a significant growth advantage, the magnitude of that advantage seems to have dropped a little bit with the most recent data so the curves are flattening a little but it will take more time for us to be definitive about it.

It certainly does seem to be flattening. Here’s the latest data from the hotspots.

New daily infections have also been dropping fast in India for some days now, having peaked in Delhi almost a month ago.

Does this mean we can have our freedom back, Boris?

The Government’s panic over local outbreaks of the Indian variant is very concerning as it suggests they have not yet adjusted to the mindset necessary to restore normality without getting sucked into kneejerk ‘Zero Covid’ thinking.

As ever, the question remains: at what point will the Government accept, like Florida and Texas, that the pandemic is over?

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