EXPLAINER: How worrying is the variant first seen in India?

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People queueto receive COVID-19 vaccinations at the ESSA academy in Bolton, England, Tuesday May 18, 2021. For the first time in months, people across England are meeting indoors at pubs, restaurants, cinemas, gyms and elsewhere as coronavirus rules were relaxed across the country on Monday. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Britons to be cautious and some of the scientists advising him say restrictions might need to be reimposed quickly because of a worrying variant first detected in India. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)

LONDON – For the first time in months, people across England are meeting indoors at pubs, restaurants, cinemas, gyms and elsewhere as coronavirus rules were relaxed this week.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Britons to be cautious and some of the scientists advising him say restrictions might need to be reimposed quickly because of a worrying variant first detected in India.

Here’s a look at what we know and don’t know about the variant:

WHAT IS THIS VARIANT?

The COVID-19 variant first identified in India has been classified as a “variant of concern” by Britain and the World Health Organization, meaning there is some evidence that it spreads more easily between people, causes more severe disease, or might be less responsive to treatments and vaccines.

“The absolute numbers of cases (of the variant) in the U.K. remain quite small, but the growth rate is quite high,” said Nick Loman, a professor of microbial genomics at the University of Birmingham.

To date, there have been more than 2,300 cases identified in Britain. Figures released by Public Health England show cases of the variant first detected in India have tripled in the past week and experts say it's on track to become the most dominant COVID-19 variant in the country.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, said more information was still needed about the variant's spread globally.