LONDON, May 17 (Xinhua) -- A total of 2,323 cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in India have been recorded in Britain, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday.
Speaking at the House of Commons, the lower house of British Parliament, Hancock said the variant is now the dominant strain of the virus in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, both in northwest England, with 483 confirmed cases.
According to Hancock, in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, cases of the variant have doubled last week.
"In Blackburn, hospitalizations are stable with eight people currently in hospital with COVID, and in Bolton 19 people are now in hospital with coronavirus -- the majority of whom are eligible for a vaccine but haven't yet had a vaccine," he said.
"This shows the new variant is not tending to penetrate into older, vaccinated groups and it underlines again the importance of getting the jab especially -- but not only -- amongst the vulnerable age groups."
Hancock has said there is a "high degree of confidence" that the current COVID vaccines will be effective against the India-related variant, but the virus could "spread like wildfire" among those who have not had a jab.
"While we also don't have the complete picture on the impact of the vaccine, the early laboratory data from Oxford University corroborates the evidence from Bolton Hospital and the initial observational data from India that vaccines are effective against this variant," he said.
Hancock's remarks came as the lockdown further eased on Monday across Britain despite concerns over risks posed by coronavirus variants, especially the one first detected in India.
From Monday, pubs, bars and restaurants in England are permitted to open indoors, while indoor entertainment resumed, including cinemas, museums and children's play areas.
Millions in England are allowed to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30 people, and meet indoors in groups of up to six or as two households.
More than 36.7 million people in Britain have been given the first jab of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.
Experts have warned that despite progress in vaccine rollout, Britain is "still not out of the woods" amid concerns over new variants, particularly those first emerged in South Africa, Brazil and India, and the third wave of the pandemic on the European continent.
To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Russia, the United States as well as the European Union have been racing against time to roll out coronavirus vaccines.