UK health authorities have said that two further strands with the same “parent lineage” as the so-called Indian variant of coronavirus have been identified and are now being monitored as separate Variants Under Investigation (VUIs).
Public Health England (PHE) said it has tracked around 400 cases of the B.1.617 variant of coronavirus first found in India but added that it continues to remain a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) as opposed to Variant of Concern (VOC), with no evidence so far to suggest it is more dangerous.
The two further variants are from the B.1.617 lineage, described as a “distinct fingerprint of genetic mutations”, making the two additional VUIs genetically similar.
"While closely related, their genetic profiles are different and have been designated as separate Variants Under Investigation so that we can track them properly and take fast public health action as needed," PHE said in a weekly update on Thursday.
"There is currently no evidence that these variants cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective. PHE is carrying out increased laboratory testing, in collaboration with international partners to better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus and to ensure all appropriate public health interventions are taken,” it said.
Figures published by PHE show a further 61 cases of the original Indian variant, taking the total to 193, along with 202 cases of the newly-classified B.
1.617.2 and five cases of B.1.617.3.
The health authority pointed out that the identified case numbers of the VUIs remain low and are geographically dispersed in England. Where cases have been identified, additional follow up of cases, testing of contacts and targeted case finding will be used to limit the spread of these variants.
"All appropriate public health interventions will be undertaken, including additional contact tracing and targeted testing," PHE said.
The majority of the cases are linked to UK-India travel and the latest update comes as travel from India to Britain remains banned under the “red list”, with the new variant believed to be behind the surge in cases in India in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, cases of the South African variant increased by 67 to 737, amid surge testing in parts of London to track the Variant of Concern (VOC).
The dominant variant in England remains the so-called Kent variant, which has also been a VOC for some time, with 8,466 new cases.
PHE said it continues to monitor all the VUIs and VOCs and reminded the public that the best way to stop the spread of the deadly virus and its variants is to remember social distancing norms of “hands, face, space” and follow the lockdown restrictions in place.
In total, the coronavirus has claimed 127,759 lives in the UK so far, along with over 4 million confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.