The health agency said 73 cases had been detected in England, with four in Scotland. The new Covid variant contains two significant mutations in the spike protein that help it to infect cells and evade the immune system. Scientists also fear that it might be more infectious than earlier forms of the Covid virus.
Although there is currently no concrete proof to substantiate these concerns, anecdotal evidence is emerging from India.
Analysis by Thomas Moore, science correspondent at Sky News, notes it has “hallmarks of a very dangerous virus”.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told The Guardian: “I think it’s fair to say that this is a candidate for becoming a variant of concern pretty soon.”
It is also unclear whether the new strain has any impact on the effectiveness of vaccines.
The Indian strain was first detected in the UK in specimens dating back to February 22.
The new variant is thought to be fuelling the huge surge in Covid cases in India, where over 200,000 new infections were recorded on Wednesday.
It has been detected in at least five Indian states that are hotspots for the surge.
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“The Pandora’s box of this disaster is open now.”
The Medical Director at the Dharamveer Solanki Hospital in New Delhi added: “People’s condition is deteriorating much quicker, we’re seeing many more patients with a cytokine storm and a lot of younger patients.
“Their symptoms are a lot more difficult to manage this time.”