The highly contagious Indian variant of the coronavirus threatens to introduce a deadly third wave in the UK as the number of cases surges across the country.
The number of confirmed cases of the mutation, which originated in India, has risen by 160% this week, Public Health England (PHE) said, adding 3,424 infections have been confirmed by the end of Thursday, up from 1,313 cases from the previous week.
“Cases are still predominantly affecting the north-west of England – particularly Bolton – and London, but we are seeing clusters of cases across the country.
“There is evidence that VOC-21APR-02 is growing rapidly and may be more transmissible than VOC-20DEC-01, the ‘Kent variant’ that is currently dominant in the UK,” PHE said in a statement.
“Accounting for the proportion of samples that have been sequenced, we are likely to have had over 11,000 cases up to 15 May due to the Indian variant,” it added.
The center of the spread of the mutation in the UK is in the north-west English city of Bolton where there have been 320 cases per 100,000 people in the last week.
Also known as B.1.617.2, the variant, according to PHE, now stands to become the dominant variant should numbers continue to increase at this rate.
“Following extensive COVID-19 surveillance, which has rapidly detected cases of the B1.617.2 variant first identified in India, additional surge testing, tracing and isolation support measures are being deployed at pace across Bedford, Burnley, Hounslow, Kirklees, Leicester and North Tyneside,” it said.
The government will also bolster its vaccine roll-out drive in the Midlands and the North where the local populations have been urged to receive a jab.
In Bolton, a 100-strong Surge Rapid Response Team is going door to door to conduct daily tests. Some 33,000 test kits have also been handed out across the city with more than 3,400 kits being given out in door-to-door visits by public health officials.
Despite its plans to combat the surge, the government has come under fire for not acting fast enough when the Indian variant first appeared in the UK. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticized for not banning travel to and from India earlier.
New variant under investigation
A new mutation detected in the UK has been designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by PHE. There have been 49 recorded cases of the strain, which is known as VUI-21MAY-01 and is mainly concentrated in Yorkshire and Humber, northeast England.
According to PHE, both the Indian variant and the new mutation, which was discovered in April, pose no threats to the efficacy and efficiency of the vaccines and does not cause more severe diseases.
PHE is continuing to monitor the new variant and is carrying lab tests to understand its nature and how it differs from other variants.
“All appropriate public health interventions are being undertaken, including additional contact tracing and targeted testing. Where cases have been identified, additional follow-up of cases, testing of contacts and targeted case finding will limit the spread of variants,” it said.
After being detected in the UK, the new variant has also been discovered in Greece and Chad. The origins of the strain are unknown as of yet.