A total of 77 cases of a coronavirus variant that was first detected in India have been recorded in the United Kingdom till April 14, The Guardian reported on Thursday citing the latest update from Public Health England. Of these, 73 were recorded in England and four in Scotland.
“A new variant has been designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by PHE [Public Health England],” the country’s health agency said in its weekly report, according to PTI. “The variant, first detected in India, includes a number of mutations including E484Q, L452R, and P681R.”
This was the first time Public Health England reported the Indian variant in the United Kingdom. The strain is currently labelled “variant under investigation”. If the virus appears to be more infectious or more resistant to the body’s immune response, it may be designated a “variant of concern”. The health agency said it was monitoring the situation closely.
Labelled B.1.617,the mutant variant was first detected in India, but has been now found in eight countries, with 70% of samples containing the mutations originating from India. It is being called a “double mutant” variant because it has two mutations.
The E484Q mutation has characteristics of a previously detected variant – the E484K – which was seen in the fast-spreading Brazilian and South African variants, making it highly transmissible. The L452R mutation, on the other hand, helps the virus evade the body’s immune response.
Health experts said the arrival of the India variant in the United Kingdom was potentially worrying.
“These two escape mutations working together could be a lot more problematic than the South African and Brazilian variants who have only got one escape mutation,” Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian. “It might be even less controlled by vaccine than the Brazilian and South African variants.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to travel to India later this month. However, his trip has been curtailed as a result of the infections here.
India is currently in the middle of a ferocious second wave, recording 2,17,353 new cases on Friday, taking its tally to 1,42,91,917. One of the factors propelling the second wave is the emergence of this new, fast-spreading Indian variant of the virus. It has been found in 61% of samples put through genome sequencing in Maharashtra, the worst hit state in India, strengthening suspicions that the current surge is powered by a more transmissible strain.