Covid live news: Beta variant may evade vaccines, say experts as UK faces ‘protracted’ period of high infections rates

By Nicola Slawson

05:13

In anticipation of an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, states and cities across the United States have enjoyed reopening once-shuttered communities for business, leisure, summer festivities and travel as life has returned to near-normal.

However, health officials remain on high alert given one ongoing obstacle to being finished with Covid-19: wide swaths of unvaccinated people in America that could allow the virus to further mutate and potentially spawn more transmissible and increasingly deadly variants.

That means that unvaccinated people are not only at greater risk of Covid-19 themselves, but could also potentially undermine America’s whole vaccine rollout if any future variant emerging in the US was significantly resistant to the shots.

“Unvaccinated people are basically the cannon fodder of the virus. The virus needs people to infect in order to replicate and the more people it has that are vulnerable or susceptible to infection, the more likely it will mutate,” said Dr Michael Saag, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Forty-six US states recorded at least a 10% increase in new coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, reported by CNN. Travel advisories have been declared for several states including Nevada and Florida because of increased Covid-19 cases, warning wannabe vacationers to stay away.

Against the backdrop of an almost nationwide increase in Covid-19 cases, there is a renewed focus on the vaccine rollout. After just missing a 4 July deadline of getting at least 70% of American adults their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Biden administration – together with federal, state and local health officials – is encouraging people, especially younger adults, to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

But, even amid the more aggressive attempts to boost vaccination rates, several states, many concentrated in the south, continue to lag behind. As of 5 July, Arkansas, which has fully vaccinated less than 35% of its adult population, has acquired new Covid-19 cases at five times the national average rate. Similarly, Oklahoma, where only 39% of adults are fully vaccinated, has had a similar increase in Covid-19 cases. Those who remain unvaccinated risk infection as well as an increased chance of hospitalization or death from Covid.

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The Beta variant of the coronavirus spreading in France may evade vaccines, a scientist involved in advising the government has warned.

The government has said travellers returning from France – unlike other amber list destinations – must continue to self-isolate even if they are fully vaccinated.

Professor John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said ministers were right to be concerned, PA news reports.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:

The Beta variant has remained a threat throughout. It is probably less infectious than the Delta variant that is spreading here in the UK at the moment. Where it has an advantage is that it is able to escape the immune response to a better extent.

As the population here becomes more and more immune, the conditions are right then for the Beta variant to get an advantage, so I can understand the concern.

Of the variants that are out there and are known about, that one has always been a threat to us. There is some good evidence from South Africa that it can evade the immune response generated by the AstraZeneca vaccine more efficiently.

I’m Nicola Slawson and I’ll be taking you through the day’s events today. Do drop me an email on nicola.slawson@theguardian.com or find me on Twitter (@Nicola_Slawson) if you think I’ve missed anything or if you have any questions.