Seven cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus have been found in the UK’s Bedfordshire county, hours after health officials here elevated the subtype from under investigation to a Variant of Concern (VOC) amidst a rise in the number of cases in the country and evidence of community transmission.
The variant, known as VOC-21APR-02, was identified after genetic sequencing was carried out on positive COVID-19 tests, Bedford Borough Council said late on Friday.
The Council said it was working with Public Health England (PHE) to investigate the cases.
Vicky Head, the Council’s director of public health, said there was “insufficient evidence” about whether the variant caused more severe illness.
“PHE has already been in touch with the people concerned to ensure they are self-isolating and to complete contact tracing.
“Since then we have been working closely with the education settings and PHE to ensure that all close contacts of those affected are identified and advised to self-isolate for 10 days,” she added.
On Friday, the PHE elevated the Indian variant from under investigation to a Variant of Concern (VOC) following a rise in the number of cases in the UK and evidence of community transmission.
The B.1.617.2, classified as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) on April 28, is now known as VOC-21APR-02 after it was found to be at least as transmissible as the so-called Kent variant, detected in England last year and the dominant variant in the UK so far.
“Cases of VOC-21APR-02 have increased to 520 from 202 over the last week and almost half the cases are related to travel or contact with a traveller,” PHE said.
The cases are spread across the country, however, the majority of the cases are in two areas – the north west of England, predominantly Bolton, and London – where the greatest transmission of the variant has been observed.
However, PHE said there is insufficient evidence to suggest if the variant is also more dangerous in that it can escape vaccine protection.
“The other characteristics of this variant are still being investigated. There is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.
PHE is carrying out laboratory testing, in collaboration with academic and international partners to better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus,” PHE said.
It said that surge and community testing is an effective way of finding and isolating new cases of variants and will be deployed where there is evidence of community transmission. This is in addition to comprehensive work that is already underway to trace and test all contacts of cases.
Everyone in the affected areas will be asked to get a test, even if they don’t have symptoms. If someone tests positive, they would be expected to isolate to stop the spread.
The original India variant – officially known as B.1.617 – was first detected in October. Last month, PHE had categorised two further subtypes to that – B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3.
Experts believe of the three, the variant B.1.617.2 is at least as transmissible as the so-called Kent variant, which had been detected in England at the end of last year and led to the UK’s second wave surge in coronavirus infections earlier this year.
These variants are not believed to feature the E.484K mutation found in the South African variant of the virus, which could help the virus dodge a person’s immune system.
The Kent, South Africa and Brazil strains have all been deemed Variants of Concern (VOCs) in the UK. These versions, along with the India variant, have all undergone changes to their spike protein – the part of the virus which attaches to human cells.
Viruses by nature mutate, producing different versions of themselves. Most of these mutations are insignificant but some can make the virus more contagious and harder to vaccinate against.
The Indian variant is believed to be largely behind the current surge in infections in India’s ongoing severe second wave of the pandemic that has led to a severe strain on the country’s health system.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)