“I think there is a significant risk of a wave occurring in the summer,” professor John Edmunds, an expert on infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told ITV’s Peston Podcast.
But there is “huge uncertainty” about how serious it will be in terms of hospitalisations and deaths, said Edmunds, who is a member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
Talking about the different variants of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, he said, “Of the ones that are known at the moment, the South African variant is probably the most worrying, and so I think it’s right that we do everything we can to try and keep the cases of that down.”
UK health authorities are carrying out surge testing operations in several London boroughs in an attempt to identify and isolate cases of the South African variant.
“What we are looking at in South London is an example of what we’ll see now in the coming months, as we try our best to keep that variant out or at as low a level as we possibly can,” Edmunds said.
If the mass testing fails to curb the spread, he said, “then it’s possible that we will have to impose some sort of local restrictions back in place” even though “nobody wants to do it.”
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said on Wednesday that additional testing and genomic sequencing are being provided in a targeted area within the N3 postcode area in the North London borough of Barnet, where a confirmed case of the South African variant had been found.
This case is not linked to the cluster identified earlier in South London, according to genomic sequencing results cited by the DHSC.
Surge testing was already ongoing in the South London boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth, and Wandsworth, where at least 44 confirmed cases and 30 probable cases have been found.
Medical experts have warned that the South African variant is more resistant to antibodies than the original variant and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
A study published in February showed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine didn’t seem to offer protection against mild and moderate cases of COVID-19 resulting from the South African variant.