A woman walks past an information sign amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bolton, Britain. (Image: Reuters)
The United Kingdom now has 3,424 COVID-19 cases of the B1.617.2 variant of concern (VOC) first identified in India.
The number of cases has more-than-doubled with an additional 2,111 infections of the India-dominant variant, also known as VOC-21APR-02, since last week, compared to a total of 1,313 the week before, said Public Health England (PHE) in its latest weekly variant cases data issued on May 20.
In the circular, the PHE said that the cases were still predominantly affecting the North West of England – particularly Bolton – and London, but clusters of cases are seeing across the country.
“There is evidence that VOC-21APR-02 is growing rapidly and may be more transmissible than VOC-20DEC-01, the Kent variant that is currently dominant in the UK. Experts at PHE are monitoring the situation closely,” PHE said.
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Health authorities said that a targeted approach is being used throughout London to focus on the city's many small dispersed clusters.
“This includes whole genome sequencing, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, settings-based testing, enhanced contact tracing, self-isolation support, and enhanced vaccine deployment to ensure that second doses for priority groups are brought forward and that maximum uptake is achieved for first doses,” it said.
The scientists at PHE further said that there is currently no evidence to suggest the vaccines will be less effective in protecting people against severe illness and hospitalisation from VOC-21APR-02.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said that there was increasing confidence that the vaccines currently being administered in the UK to protect against COVID-19 are effective against all variants of the deadly virus, including the B1.617.2 variant.
During his weekly Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) session in the House of Commons on May 19, Johnson said fresh data on the B1.617.2 variant had been reviewed earlier on the day and welcomed the record numbers of people from regions feared as hotspots for the highly transmissible strain for coming forward for their jabs.
"We've looked at the data again this morning and I can tell the House we have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against all variants, including the Indian variant," Johnson told the members of Parliament.
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Meanwhile, a new variant, VUI-21MAY-01, has been designated as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by PHE.
There have been 49 cases of the new VUI across the country, mainly concentrated in Yorkshire and the Humber, according to PHE.Follow our full coverage on COVID-19 here.