The emergence of another new coronavirus strain is being tracked by scientists as efforts to increase targeted testing and suppress the spread of variants of concern are expanded.
It has already been found in Stockton, with people in the TS19 postcode area being targeted by the increased testing efforts in a bit to suppress the variant’s potential spread, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
Genomic sequencing will also be carried out as part of the efforts to monitor the situation.
It has also been found are the North Wembley area of Brent in London, while testing has already been launched in Ealing and Redbridge in the capital.
Public Health England (PHE) revealed on Thursday that 16 cases of the variant, referred to as VUI-202102/04, were identified through genomic horizon scanning on February 15.
The variant, which is understood to have originated in the UK, was designated a “variant under investigation” (VUI) by PHE nine days later.
All people who have tested positive for the variant, and their contacts, have been traced and advised to isolate.
New Covid-19 variants regularly emerge and experts conduct frequent analysis to determine which are of concern or not.
The new findings mean scientists are now monitoring four VUIs and four “variants of concern” (VOC) in the UK.
PHE said the latest identified variant, also known as B.1.1.318, contains the E484K mutation, found in two other VUIs in the UK, but it does not feature the N501Y mutation that is present in all VOCs.
Health minister Lord Bethell said on Thursday that Britain was the most likely place in the world where a mutant variation of coronavirus will occur as it will happen in an area where there is “a high infection rate and a large amount of suppression of the virus by either a lockdown or a vaccine programme”.
Speaking in the Lords, he said the country “must be on the balls of its feet” to be ready for such “unhelpful news”.
Vaccine manufacturers including Pfizer and AstraZeneca are already working on new jabs to tackle variants in case they are needed.