A ‘RACE’ to vaccinate people and protect them from the Indian variant of Covid is on, but Oxfordshire is currently in a ‘great place’ as rates of the virus remain low.

That is the message from the county’s director of public health this week, as he gave an update on the latest Covid stats.

The update by Ansaf Azhar comes as the Government’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the Indian variant of the coronavirus is now likely to be the dominant strain in the UK, accounting for as much as 75 per cent of current cases.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Azhar said: “In Oxfordshire in the last week we have seen 56 cases across the whole of the county. That is one of the lowest we have seen over the last six months or so.

He added: “In that regard, Oxfordshire has seen one of the lowest case rates and it is a great place to be.”

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At the time of writing, the case rate is 8.1 people per every 100,000.

However, across the south east of England there has been a spike in case rates in recent days and weeks as the country continues on the roadmap to unlock from Covid restrictions.

At a meeting of Oxfordshire’s Health Improvement Partnership Board, Mr Azhar added there was currently as ‘race’ to vaccinate the population against the Indian variant, officially known as B.1.617.2.

Two weeks ago, the Government announced it would be vaccinating over-50s with their second dose of the jab after an eight-week period, instead of 12 weeks as originally planned, to cope with the new variant.

Mr Azhar said: “It really does feel like a bit of a race. We have got good coverage across the whole of the country but we haven’t got to the stage where we can say we have enough coverage to protect against this particular variant.”

He added that the current situation was a ‘critical juncture’, similar to when the Kent variant of the virus became the dominant strain in the UK between December and January.

The public health chief said: “If you ask what is the difference between the variant from Kent in December – the difference between then and now is the vaccine.

“It is important that everyone takes up the vaccine, it is literally saving thousands of lives.”

Board member Helen Pighills asked if there was a plan to vaccinate children and young people, as she had heard of ‘anecdotal evidence’ that Covid was beginning to spread among younger age groups in schools again.

In the past, when this has happened, Mr Azhar has said it was only a matter of time before Covid infections began in older age groups.

This time, he said small outbreaks in schools were a constant part of the current picture, but was not of great concern.

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He added there were plans to move down through the age groups with ‘real momentum’ to vaccinate children and young people in the near future.

Maggie Filipova-Rivers asked what was being done to encourage people in their 30s and 40s to take up the offer of a jab, as there appeared to be a lower percentage of these age groups coming forward to be vaccinated.

She said there had been ‘rumours’ the Pfizer jab had an impact on fertility in the past, but Mr Azhar said new data now showed this was unequivocally not the case.

He added there was a communications campaign being rolled out to communicate this, and warned younger age groups that ‘Long Covid’ had affected many people of all ages.

Last night, Matt Hancock the Health Secretary, told a press conference that the Indian variant is now likely to make up three-quarters of all Covid cases in the UK, and is linked to a rise in hotspots around the country.

At the same time, it appears the link between rising case numbers and hospitalisation with Covid-19 is beginning to be severed.