New coronavirus variant added to UK watch list

4 March 2021, 19:26 | Updated: 5 March 2021, 15:07

Scientists have identified 16 cases of a new coronavirus variant in the UK
Scientists have identified 16 cases of a new coronavirus variant in the UK. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Scientists have identified 16 cases of a new coronavirus variant in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) has announced.

Cases of the variant, referred to as VUI-202102/04, were first identified on February 15 through genomic horizon scanning.

PHE said on Thursday that all individuals who tested positive and their contacts have been traced and advised to isolate.

The variant, which is understood to have originated in the UK, was designated a "variant under investigation" (VUI) on February 24.

Variants of Covid-19 can be identified as VUIs or "variants of concern" (VOCs).

New variants emerge regularly and experts are conducting frequent analysis to see which are of concern, and which are not.

The latest identified variant contains the E484K mutation, which is found in two other VUIs present in the UK, but it does not feature the N501Y mutation that is present in all VOCs, PHE said.

The findings mean there are now four VUIs and four VOCs being tracked by scientists in the UK.

Additional testing is currently being made available for targeted areas of England to suppress the spread of VOCs.

This includes surge testing in South Gloucestershire after cases of the Manaus variant of coronavirus were discovered.

This variant of concern - known as P.1 - was detected in Brazil and in travellers from Brazil to Japan, and was associated with a surge of cases in Manaus late last year.

Six cases of this variant of concern have been found in the UK - three in Scotland and three in England.

On Tuesday, the hunt for a missing person infected with the Manaus variant of coronavirus had been narrowed down to 379 households in the south east of England, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

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Elsewhere, additional testing in targeted parts of London and Stockton-on-Tees, in County Durham, aims to suppress the spread of the South African variant of concern, which was first sequenced in the UK in December 2020.

People affected by the increased testing regime will include those within the TS19 postcode in Stockton-on-Tees, north-east England, and anyone living in Brent, north-west London.

Individuals living in these areas are being "strongly encouraged" to take a coronavirus test when offered, whether or not they have any symptoms.

A government spokeswoman said: "Further targeted areas will have additional testing made available to control and suppress the potential spread of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa.

"Working in partnership with the local authorities, additional testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to targeted areas within Stockton-on-Tees (TS19) and Brent (North Wembley), where the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found.

"The increased testing is being introduced in addition to existing extensive testing and, in combination with the public following current lockdown rules and Hands Face Space advice, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus."