New Covid variant under investigation in UK after 16 cases found

A NEW variant of Covid has been identified in the UK, health bosses have revealed today.

Public Health England said 16 cases of a strain known as VUI-202102/04 have been detected.

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The variant has been designated a "variant under investigation", which means it will be closely monitored but surge testing won't be rolled out.

It is understood to be an evolution of the UK variant, containing the E484K mutation, and similar to the one found in Liverpool earlier this year.

But it doesn't feature the the N501Y mutation, found in all variants of concern (VOCs) such as the South African and Braziliant variants.

Cases of this variant were first identified on February 15 through genomic horizon scanning, according to PHE.

All individuals who tested positive and their contacts have been traced and advised to isolate.

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There are now four variants under investigation being tracked in the UK, in addition to four variants of concern.

Officials say the new variant is similar to the the spontaneous mutation in Liverpool – named VUI202102/01.

That was part of cases among staff at Liverpool Women's Hospital in January, regional health bosses said.

A initial cluster of five cases were detected among some staff who had attended an event outside the hospital, believed to be a funeral.

Up to 58 cases have now been identified in the Liverpool City region, Warrington, Preston and West Lancashire.

Commenting specifically on these cases, a PHE spokeswoman said: "NHS Test and Trace currently activates surge testing in areas where Variants of Concern are identified.

"Specialist public health teams are following up all cases with this variant and are monitoring the situation closely.

"Currently surge testing is not being activated for VUIs, but this remains under close review and local authorities continue to target existing testing resources in areas where cases of the VUI have been found.”

Experts are worried about the E484K mutation because it is believed to reduce protection provided by current vaccines.

It is the same change that is causing the most concern in the South African and Brazilian variants.

Cambridge University research found the Pfizer jab is likely to be less effective against the E484K mutation.

Lab tests show ten times more antibodies were needed to prevent infection from these variants.

But the vaccine was good at neutralising the Kent strain behind the majority of current cases.

Lead researcher Professor Ravi Gupta said the race was now on to develop booster jabs.

Prof Gupta, who also sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said updated immunisations could be available this autumn.

He told The Sun last month: “We need to be looking down the road now, and we know what to do with our next set of vaccines.

"The next generation of vaccines need to have these key mutations engineered into them.

“It shouldn’t be too hard. It should take six months to sort this out, so that we have them before next winter.”

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