The discovery of 77 UK cases of a coronavirus variant first detected in India could be a cause for concern, an expert has said.
Public Health England (PHE) reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant have been confirmed in England as well as four cases in Scotland.
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”.
“There’s laboratory evidence that both of these are escape mutations,” he said.
“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.”
In India, Covid-19 rates are soaring, with more than 13.9 million confirmed cases and 172,000 deats.
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 – but… there are two mutations here that are causing people to be concerned.”
The news comes as some coronavirus travel restrictions were removed in Scotland on Friday.
From Friday, Scots can leave their local authority area and visit other parts of the country for the purposes of outdoor socialising, recreation or exercise.
But they must follow the “stay local” order for other purposes such as non-essential shopping, and travel to some islands is not allowed.