Two new variants linked to the B.1.617 variant found in India are now being classed as “variants under investigation” by Public Health England. On Thursday, PHE said it had identified 202 cases of one of the variants and five cases of the other. The cases of the two new variants have been recorded in addition to 172 cases of the B.1.617 variant first found in India.
Where are the Covid variants in the UK?
According to the latest update from PHE, 172 cases of the B.1.617 variant from India have been found in England, with 13 in Scotland and eight in Wales.
PHE said the two new variants recently identified are “geographically dispersed in England”.
The agency said in an update: “Identified case numbers remain low and are geographically dispersed in England.
“Where cases have been identified, additional follow up of cases, testing of contacts and targeted case finding will be used to limit the spread of these variants.”
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Maps from the Wellcome Sanger Institute shows where cases of the B.1.617 variant first found in India have been found in the UK.
According to the latest data up to the week ending April 10, of the samples sequenced in England, 1.7 percent were recorded as the B.1.617 variant.
In comparison, the data from two weeks previously (week ending March 27), 0.2 percent of samples were recorded as the B.1.617 variant.
According to this data, the number of cases of the B.1.617 variant in England has increased eightfold in two weeks.
To date, the data shows most cases of the variant have been identified in Leicester, with 11 samples testing positive per week since the variant was identified.
Harrow has also reported six positive samples per week, while 5.5 per week have been reported in Hounslow.
Dr Duncan Robertson, from the University of Loughborough, said in a tweet: “Many of these are likely to be linked to travel.”
Other places where the variant has been found include:
- The London boroughs of Hillingdon, Harrow, Ealing, Hounslow, Brent, Barnet, Enfield, Haringey, Kensington & Chelsea, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kingston upon Thames, Sutton, Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Bromley, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Redbridge and Barking and Dagenham
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Data from the Institute, which tracks different variants of coronavirus in the UK, also shows that the Indian variant has surged to be more common than the South African strain.
However, the Indian variant doesn’t make up anywhere near as many cases as the Kent variant, which is still the most dominant strain in Britain – amounting to 96 percent of all Covid cases.
The rise in UK cases comes as India recorded another 386,452 infections and 3,498 deaths on Friday.
The figures are already staggeringly high but medics in the country warn the true figures could be ten times greater.
Will the vaccines work against the variant?
In its update, PHE said there is no evidence the new variants cause more severe disease or make the current vaccines less effective.
PHE said it has been monitoring the variants since April and has increased its lab testing.
At a Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said he hoped the vaccines would still help to protect against severe disease in cases of infection from variants.
Professor Van-Tam added: “I couldn’t call the numbers trivial but at the same token I don’t see them rushing away now or in the next few weeks in terms of giving us a new kind of problem.
“The way you test these vaccines against these variants is either you have that variant circulating widely in your population, and you then kind of learn the hard way whether vaccines are working or not – you gain real-life epidemiological data.
“We can’t do that if they are not circulating – we are trying not to let them circulate so we are not going to create that situation so instead what we do are a series of laboratory studies called neutralisation studies.”
In reference to available lab studies, Professor Van-Tam added: “Likely in my view, the first thing to go – if something goes – will be protecting against infection, but I hope protection against severe disease will be much more solid and much more lasting.”