India variant: Is there a new Covid variant? Is it in the UK?

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Coronavirus variants have cropped up all over the world over the course of the pandemic, and another has been detected in India. Variant B.1.617 is designated a “variant under investigation” but is worrying researchers because contains two mutations that could evade immunity response in those who have had the vaccine or those who have natural immunity.

Virus mutations are common, and coronavirus has mutated numerous times, including in the UK with the Kent variant, which was responsible for the New Year spike.

While infection rates have dropped dramatically in the UK recently, surge testing is still taking place across areas of London where the South African variant has recently been detected.

This week, the ONS has estimated 112,600 people in the UK had the virus last week, a steep drop from 161,000 the week before.

This equates to one in 480 people in the UK – the lowest level since September last year.

What is the India variant?

The variant has two significant mutations which are causing concern among scientists.

Officially named B.1.617, the variant has been responsible for a huge spike in India in recent weeks.

The variant has been detected in at least five Indian states which are currently experiencing major surges, with more than 200,000 new cases of COVID detected nationwide on Wednesday.

So far, we know it has two mutations: L452R has also been found in a variant in California, but they are not thought to be connected at this stage.

The other mutation is more concerning – 484 has also been found in the South African variant – but this variation, E484Q, is slightly different.

A double mutation in itself is also a particular concern, although this has been found in other variants.

It remains to be seen what effect this has on vaccines – which so far have still been very effective at reducing chances of serious illness and death.

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Is the India variant in the UK yet?

Unfortunately yes – 73 cases have been detected so far in England and another four have been found in Scotland.

Despite the concern, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will still press ahead with a visit to India later this month.

Speaking about the visit, a Number 10 spokesperson said the trip was already “slightly shorter than it will have been”.

They said: “As you would expect, safety is obviously important and is a priority for us on this trip, which is why we will make sure that all elements of the visit are Covid-secure.”

India is not currently on the UK’s red list for travel – meaning hotel quarantine is not mandatory if a person arrives in the UK from India.

Professor Linda Bauld, chair of public health in The Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Unless something has changed in the last few hours, India – unlike Pakistan and Bangladesh – is not on the red list.

“There are real questions about that. Obviously, we don’t want any countries to be on that list but it is about protecting the progress we have made.”

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