New Covid variant found in India raises alarm in UK – fears vaccines unable to control it

India: Expert warns of 'rapidly rising' coronavirus cases

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The figures come from the latest update of PHE’s surveillance of the distribution of different variants across the UK, based on data up to April 7. Officials have designated it a “variant under investigation” (VUI) rather than a “variant of concern” (VOC), such as the Manaus (Brazil) or South African variants.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the variant features two “escape mutations” – E484Q and L452R – which “are causing people to be concerned”.

He warned: “There’s laboratory evidence that both of these are escape mutations.

“Basically, applying what we know about other human coronaviruses would suggest that this is going to be even less controlled by vaccine.

“But we don’t know that for certain at the moment.”

Covid-19 rates are soaring in India, with more than 13.9 million confirmed cases and 172,000 deats.

The country is not currently on the Government’s “red list” of travel ban nations, which sees people who have been in those countries in the previous 10 days refused entry to the UK.

British or Irish nationals, or people with UK residency rights, are able to return from red list countries but must isolate in a quarantine hotel for 10 days.

Boris Johnson has scaled down a planned trip to India due to its worsening Covid situation.

The Prime Minister was due to spend four days in the south Asian country at the end of the month but, following talks with Narendra Modi’s administration, the “bulk” of the meetings could be fitted into one day.

Prof Hunter said it is “not surprising” that the variant has come from India.

“If you think about where the main variants have arisen – South Africa, the UK, California, Brazil, and now India – all of these are countries that have really struggled to keep case numbers down.

“So it’s not surprising. India has got a huge pandemic, and therefore that’s where you’re going to be getting the variant.”

He added: “The big, big anxiety with this one is that it seems – and again this is still a little bit speculative because it hasn’t been confirmed – bu there are two mutations here that are causing people to be concerned.”

PHE’s latest findings mean there are now seven VUIs and four VOCs being tracked by scientists in the UK.

In London, extra testing facilities were launched this week to help limit the spread of the South African coronavirus variant following a cluster of cases being discovered.

A total of 600 cases of the variant of concern have been detected so far in the UK, an increase of 56 in a week.

India: New Covid-19 variant discovered

Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial College London, speaking to the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, said the London cluster was a “concern”.

But he added that earlier clusters of the same variant had been found before and “that hasn’t led to a rapid take off”.

He said: “So even though it’s a different situation now with lockdown being eased, I think that’s a little bit reassuring.

He highlighted that the variant had been detected in Israel, which has a heavily vaccinated population, and it had not yet “risen to dominance or grown”.

He stressed: “Although we have to watch it and be concerned, it’s not immediately apparent that it will be a large problem.”

The rise of new strains of COVID-19 poses a huge challenge to the world’s public health officials.

Speaking last week,Deenan Pillay, Professor of Virology at University College London, issued a warned after the publication of a report last week suggested the P.2 variant identified in Brazil was altering itself to defeat antibodies in a development that would render vaccines less effective.

Prof Pillay told Express.co.uk: “I think it needs to be taken very seriously.

“What we know is that this is a virus that continues to mutate and so variants will continue to exist and develop as long as ongoing transmission is occurring.”

(More to follow)

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