Scientists have identified 16 cases of a new coronavirus variant in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) has announced.
Cases of the variant, referred to as VUI-202102/04, were first identified on 15 February through genomic horizon scanning. PHE said on Thursday that all individuals who tested positive and their contacts have been traced and advised to isolate. The variant, which is understood to have originated in the UK, was designated a “variant under investigation” (VUI) on 24 February.
Variants of Covid-19 can be identified as VUIs or “variants of concern” (VOCs). New variants emerge regularly and experts are conducting frequent analysis to see which are of concern, and which are not.
The latest identified variant, also known as B.1.1.318, contains the E484K mutation, which is found in two other VUIs present in the UK, but it does not feature the N501Y mutation that is present in all VOCs, PHE said.
The findings mean there are now four VUIs and four VOCs being tracked by scientists in the UK. Other VUIs include one from Brazil, known as P2, which has had 43 probable or confirmed cases identified in the UK, but is not causing scientists serious concern. PHE said that, as of Wednesday, a total of 26 cases of P2 had been found in England where no travel links could be established.
Two further VUIs – dubbed A.23.1 with E484K and B.1.525 – have seen 78 and 86 probable or confirmed UK cases detected respectively. Both were first detected in the UK in December.