Two new variants linked to the Covid-19 variant first found in India have been identified in England. Public Health England (PHE) said the two variants share the same lineage – a distinct fingerprint of genetic mutations – as the Indian variant known as B.1.617.The two variants are designated as “variants under investigation” (VUI) – the same as B.1.617 – rather than “variants of concern” (VOC), such as those first identified in Kent, Manaus (Brazil) and South Africa.
PHE said it has identified 202 cases of one of the variants and five cases of the other that are “geographically dispersed in England”.It said there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe disease or make the current vaccines any less effective.
PHE said it has been monitoring the variants since March and has increased lab testing “to better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus”.
According to the latest update from PHE, 172 cases of the B.1.617 variant have been found in England, with 13 in Scotland and eight in Wales.
There are a total of 226,635 cases of the Kent variant, known as B.1.1.7, in the UK, PHE figures show.
There are four variants of concern and nine variants under investigation which have been identified in the UK.
At the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said concern around the impact new variants could have on the UK vaccine programme was behind the policy decisions on tight border controls.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said it was difficult to assess how new coronavirus variants would impact vaccines being rolled out in the UK but he hoped the inoculations would continue to protect against severe illness.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Government continues to “work closely” with its Indian counterparts to “determine what further help they may need”, as a devastating surge of new infections continues to tear through the country.
By Sean Morrison