In its weekly updates on the number of confirmed new cases of Variants of Concern (VOC) and VUI in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) has said that the variant first detected in India includes a number of mutations.
“A new variant has been designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by PHE. The variant, first detected in India, includes a number of mutations including E484Q, L452R, and P681R,” news agency PTI quoted the PHE weekly report.
“PHE has identified 77 cases of this variant in the UK and all appropriate public health interventions will be undertaken, including enhanced contact tracing. This variant has been designated VUI-21APR-01. PHE and international partners continue to monitor the situation closely,” it added.
B.1.617 variant and the surge
The B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV-2 carries two mutations, E484Q and L452R. Both are separately found in many other coronavirus variants, but they have been reported together for the first time in India.
The two mutations are found in the virus’s spike protein. The spike protein helps the virus to bind itself to the human cell’s receptors and gain entry into a host cell.
The E484Q mutation is similar to E484K, a mutation found in the United Kingdom (lineage B.1.1.7) and South Africa (B.1.351) variants of the coronavirus.
Together, E484Q and L452R are more infectious and can evade antibodies.
B.1.617 variant responsible for India’s 2nd Covid wave
The B.1.617 strain’s mutations are feared to make the variant spread faster and partially evade immunity. The variant is believed to be largely responsible for India’s current second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with infection rates and hospitalisations on the rise once again.
It also led to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deciding to shorten the length of his India visit later this month, with the bulk of the events now expected to be limited to a day-long packed schedule on April 26.
“We have been in close contact with the Indian government about the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit in light of the Covid-19 situation in India. As a result of these discussions the Prime Minister has made the decision to reduce the length of the visit, due to take place at the end of this month, to a shorter programme in New Delhi,” the UK PM’s spokesperson at 10 Downing Street said.
India at present is not on the “red list” of countries, which involves more stringent hotel-based quarantine requirements for travellers commuting between India and the UK. If further concerns emerge around the Indian B.1.617 variant in the UK, it could be categorised from a Variant Under Investigation to a Variant of Concern.
The latest addition brings the total number of variants detected in the UK to 56, including the so-called Kent variant and South African strains which is top of the UK’s concerns. The PHE said that the dominant variant in the country continues to be VOC-20DEC-01 B.1.1.7, or the Kent variant, which is being monitored closely.
“The best way to stop the spread of the virus is to remember: hands, face, space and follow the restrictions in place,” the PHE said.
Earlier this week, people living in four boroughs in south London were urged to get tested as part of a surge testing drive after cases of the South African variant were found in Wandsworth, Lambeth, Barnet and Southwark.
It comes as all parts of the United Kingdom began easing lockdown restrictions gradually this week, with non-essential retail shops, hairdressers and outdoor-serving restaurants among the businesses allowed to operate once again after months of lockdown.
UK variant detected in 70% samples sent by PGIMER
Meanwhile, the UK variant of Covid-19 was found in 70% of 60 samples sent to the National Centre for Diseases Control, the PGIMER has said.
“70% of the samples had UK variant of Covid-19 and 20% of the samples had 681 H mutant,” said Jagat Ram, the director of the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research
The majority of the samples were from Chandigarh, he added.
He said the PGIMER’s Department of Virology had sent 60 positive samples of Covid-19 to the National Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC), New Delhi in March.
It was found that 70% of the samples had UK variants of Covid-19, one sample was having a double mutation. 681H mutant of Covid-19 was observed in 20% of the samples. Jagat Ram said considering the high transmission and faster spread of Covid-19 by the UK variant, everyone should follow Covid- appropriate behaviour.