The United Kingdom is scheduled to completely end lockdown on June 21, 2021. However, cases of new Covid variants threaten to derail the roadmap plan. As parts of the UK grapple with the new variant first detected in India, this week a new Covid variant has also been categorized as a “variant under investigation” by Public Health England (PHE).
Currently categorized as VUI-21MAY-01 by Public Health England, 49 cases of the new variant have been confirmed in England.
PHE said cases of the new variant have been mainly concentrated in Yorkshire and the Humber.
PHE explained it had been monitoring the variant since April and that the variant is “from a lineage which was designated a signal in monitoring on May 6, 2021, based on an unusual mutation profile”.
There is currently no evidence the variant under investigation causes more severe disease.
There is also no evidence that the new variant threatens the effectiveness of the current vaccines, according to PHE.
If deemed appropriate, variants under investigation may be upgraded to become a “variant of concern”.
The B.1.617.2 variant, the Covid variant first detected in India, is classed as a variant of concern and, according to the latest data, cases in the UK are on the rise.
Public Health England (PHE) reported cases of the Covid variant first detected in India have risen by 2,111 to 3,424 since last week.
Bolton has reported the highest number of cases of the Indian variant to date.
Blackburn with Darwen has recorded the second-highest rate, while Bedford has the third-highest rate of cases of the B.1.617.2 variant.
Surge testing programs and vaccines have been expanded to the areas reporting high numbers of cases of the new variant.
The new variant is being monitored closely, but early data suggests the current vaccines are still effective against the strain.
But experts think the variant can spread faster than the original Covid strain and the dominant ‘Kent’ variant in the UK.
Dr. Jenny Harries, Chief Executive, UK Health Security Agency, said: “As cases of VOC-21APR-02 continue to rise, it is absolutely vital that people living in areas where prevalence is high come forward to get the vaccine.
“It is the best defense we have against the spread of this disease.
“As we start to get back to normal life, it is very important that we do not become complacent.
“All of us need to remain responsible and vigilant. Get tested regularly, get the vaccine when offered it, and practice ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’. It will save lives.”
As to whether the last stage of England’s lockdown roadmap could be delayed, Downing Street said it was “still too early” to determine whether the Indian variant will alter the roadmap.