The Lancashire and South Cumbria Strategic Commissioning Committee was told that health service bosses in the region are growing concerned about the spread of the variant, which it is thought likely to be more transmissible than the Kent strain that has been the dominant one circulating in the UK for around the last six months.
No data on the exact number of cases in the area was presented to the meeting, but, nationally, incidence of the Indian variant has been confirmed by Public Health England to have risen from just over 200 cases to more than 1,300 in the space of a fortnight. It has been identified as a “variant of concern”, although it is hoped that it does not have any significant resistance to vaccines.
Committee members heard that the current Covid position in Lancashire’s hospitals is encouraging - with no coronavirus-related deaths on the wards in the 12 days up to 11th May. The number of beds occupied with Covid patients was also described as now being “low”.
However, Fylde coast GP Dr. Amanda Doyle - chief officer for the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System (ICS) - issued a “note of caution” about what may lie ahead.
“We are becoming increasingly worried about outbreaks of variants of concern across Lancashire and South Cumbria - particularly the [one] that first originated in India.
“We’re seeing Blackburn with Darwen [as] one of the places that’s causing concern nationally, with a significant increase in numbers.
“So there is a lot of work going on...around enhancing the [preventative] measures - which are the same measures we have taken in the past. It’s about testing, contract tracing and people following the rules around isolation.
“We’re also putting quite some effort into really targeting vaccination - particularly in people who have been hesitant about taking up the vaccination in those places where we have got the highest levels [of infection].
“At the moment, we are seeing significant numbers testing positive in the community, but not a significant impact on hospital admissions - but we really need to make sure that we act to prevent that happening,” said Dr. Doyle.
The committee heard that an average of 75 percent of over-40s across Lancashire - the age group most recently being offered the Covid vaccine - had now received a first dose and that the rate rose to around 85 percent in some areas.
It was briefly suggested on Thursday that all over-18s in Blackburn with Darwen would be offered a jab from next week. However, the council later said that it was offering additional clinics - but only for those groups currently eligible for a jab nationally.
The government, though, says it has not ruled out targeting the vaccine programme in areas showing spikes in cases, should scientists recommend the move.
Lancashire County Council's director of public health Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi has previously called for the county to be prioritised for a faster rollout of the vaccine due to stubbornly high infection rates and working and living conditions that can speed the spread of the virus. Back in February, he said such a move was necessary precisely to prevent new variants emerging within the UK itself.
The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) met on Thursday to discuss the spread of the Indian variant. The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that a meeting of Public Health England in the North West also took place.
The next step on the government's roadmap out of lockdown is set to take place on Monday 17th May, when indoor mixing will be allowed between up to six people or two households.
However, the government has not ruled out a return to some form of local restrictions if they are deemed necessary.