His comments come as the latest data showed cases of the Indian variant show the number of cases across the UK has risen from 520 last week, to 1,313 cases this week. Most are in the North West of England and some in London, Public Health England said.
If the Indian variant of coronavirus spreads out of control, ministers must be prepared to delay relaxing lockdown, NHS leaders have warned.
The NHS Confederation, which represents more than 500 health and care organisations across the UK, urged the government not to delay taking action regardless of how unpopular such a move would be.
Chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “With growing concern around the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19, the government must be guided by the data.
“If there is any indication that the spread is no longer sufficiently under control, it must be prepared to adjust the timetable for easing lockdown, however unpopular that decision may be. There is also the real risk that the virus could mutate further if allowed to spread unchecked.”
Bedford Borough Council today called for all residents aged over 16 to be vaccinated after the rate of Covid infections per 100,000 people rose from 39.8 to 84.3 in a week.
Dominic Harrison, the director of public health for Blackburn with Darwen Council said he backed the idea of surge vaccinations adding: “Time is ticking and the Indian variant is spreading. The government still not letting local government areas with high rates accelerate vaccination to shut down transmission.”
Mr Mortimer said it was vital anyone eligible for vaccinations get their jab adding: “Vaccination remains one of our strongest defences against the virus, and in areas where vaccine confidence is low, we need to see clear, consistent information, and to ensure that getting access to a jab is as easy as possible.
“The programme must also be supported by a strong test and trace system. The virus is still in circulation, which means we will need people power and expertise to shore up the test and trace system to help halt surges. The NHS cannot afford another spike like the one seen earlier this year.”
Chris Hopson, NHS Providers chief executive, which represents hospital trusts, added: “This is clearly a fast moving situation where evidence is still emerging. It is the NHS’d job, as ever, to be ready to provide care to all those who need it. But we need as much help as possible from the government and the epidemiological and modelling community.
“It would help trusts if, as fast as they can, government and their expert advisers could produce a robust and aligned view of the risk the NHS faces here. How big is the risk? How widespread could it be? When might it realise?
“We know this risk assessment will need to be based on a best estimate of the complex interactions between the latest data on transmission including levels of infection, geographic spread and speed of transmission; vaccine uptake and resulting levels of immunity; and vaccine efficacy in relation to this variant.
“Given the combination of potentially lower vaccine efficacy, seemingly much faster transmission of the virus and the fact that many people are still unvaccinated, there is a risk that this variant could lead to a large group of people becoming ill with COVID-19 putting significant pressure on the NHS once more.
“Trust leaders need this risk assessment as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly.”
The Indian variant, classified as B1.617.2 has sparked clusters of infection in Bolton, London and Blackburn. Scientists have called for the use of ‘surge vaccinations’ in areas affected by the variant.
It is thought the existing Covid vaccines are able to neutralise the variant but in recent weeks it has out competed the Kent variant that emerged in England last autumn and which has now become the dominant variant in circulation in the UK.
The ability of the Indian variant to spread more easily than the Kent variant is what has alarmed scientists. Although more than 35 million people in the UK have had at least one dose only 18 million have had both doses with 32 per cent of the country yet to have any jab at all.