UK Upgrades Indian COVID-19 Strain to ‘Variant of Concern’

May 8, 2021 Updated: May 8, 2021

The UK health authorities have designated a CCP virus variant first detected in India as a “variant of concern,” Public Health England (PHE) confirmed on Friday.

PHE said it reclassified the variant from a “variant under investigation” to a “variant of concern” following “a rise in cases in the UK and evidence of community transmission.”

There is evidence which suggests this variant, also known as B.1.617.2, is “at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7, which is known as the UK variant or the Kent variant,” PHE said, adding that the other characteristics of this variant are still being investigated.

“We are monitoring all of these variants extremely closely and have taken the decision to classify this as a Variant of Concern because the indications are that this VOC-21APR-02 is a more transmissible variant,” said Dr. Susan Hopkins, COVID-19 Strategic Response Director at PHE.

Cases of the variant, now known as VOC-21APR-02, have increased to 520 from 202 over the last week, and almost half of the cases are related to travel or contact with a traveller.

The cases are spread across the country, but the majority of the cases are in northwest England and London.

Asked about his concerns on the Indian variant, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “I think we’ve got to be very careful about that.”

“What we’re doing there is making sure that we are absolutely ruthless in the surge testing, in the door-to-door tracking of any contacts,” he told reporters.

“At the moment we’re looking carefully at the way the Indian variant seems to function, we don’t see any evidence that it is resistant to the vaccines or in any way more dangerous,” he said.

B.1.617.2 is one of three related variants first seen in India and has since been detected in the UK. The other two variants—dubbed B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.3—remain classified as “variant under investigation.”

Scientists believe this variant can spread more quickly than two other related variants seen in India.

PHE said there is currently “insufficient evidence” to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or make the vaccines available any less effective.

PHE health protection teams are working with local authorities, public health officials, and NHS Test and Trace to detect cases and limit onward spread.

Surge testing will be deployed where there is evidence of community transmission, PHE added.

PA contributed to this report.