he UK is in a “straight race” to vaccinate its population in order to outrun the threat of the Indian Covid variant, according to England’s deputy chief medical officer.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the vaccine-rate over the next few weeks would be crucial for ensuring the Prime Minister could lift all restrictions on June 21, as set out in his road map out of lockdown.

As part of efforts to “turbo-boost” the vaccine programme, more than one million people aged 34 and 35 will receive a text message on Thursday or Friday asking them to come forward for their Covid vaccine, NHS England confirmed. People ged 34 and over can also go onto the NHS site to book.

Professor Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College London expert whose work led to the first lockdown in March 2020, said on Wednesday that there was a “glimmer of hop” from recent data on the variant.

“Whilst this variant does still appear to have a significant growth advantage, the magnitude of that advantage seems to have dropped a little bit with the most recent data.

“The curves are flattening a little.”

Almost 3,000 cases of the Indian variant have been identified in the UK – up from the 2,323 declared on Monday – and surge testing has been launched in a number of areas in a bid to control its spread.

Prof Van-Tam told a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday: “I pitch this personally as a straight race between the transmissibility of this new variant … and vaccine delivery.

“The NHS is doing everything it can to turbo-boost that, and that is the challenge that’s ahead of us in the next two to three to four weeks, to make sure that we outrun the virus through really vigorous pull-through on vaccine delivery.”

Prof Van-Tam said scientists would have more information by next week on how transmissible the Indian variant is versus the Kent strain, which has become dominant in the UK.

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