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Confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants identified in UK

Latest updates on SARS-CoV-2 variants detected in UK.

Latest update

Public Health England (PHE) releases weekly updates on the number of confirmed new cases of variants of concern and variants under investigation identified in the UK.

The dominant variant continues to be VOC-20DEC-01 (B.1.1.7) and PHE will continue to monitor all variants closely. The best way to stop the spread of the virus is to remember: hands, face, space and follow the restrictions in place.

Further rise in VOC-21APR-02 cases detected

The latest PHE data show cases of the Variant of Concern, VOC-21APR-02, first detected in India, have risen from 520 to 1,313 cases this week in the UK. The variant was confirmed as a Variant of Concern on 7 May after a rise in cases and evidence of spread in some areas. PHE is actively monitoring the impact of this variant and its severity and is taking all appropriate public health actions to limit the spread.

Cases and clusters are being rapidly investigated to identify close contacts of those who test positive, encourage testing uptake and to ensure that people self-isolate when required. These measures, implemented by PHE health protection teams, NHS Test and Trace and local authorities, are the most effective way of breaking the chains of transmission. Additional control measures, including targeted case finding, will be implemented where there is evidence of increased spread and investigations are underway in specific settings to investigate clusters and outbreaks.

More than 60,000 additional PCR test kits have been distributed so far as part of ongoing surge testing activity for VOC-APR21-02, with cases and close contacts traced and asked to isolate. To find any new cases of the variant, over 150 existing test sites and 10 schools have distributed test kits, with 133 Mobile Testing Units deployed to provide PCR testing for people without symptoms.

Across the North West, significant work is underway with local councils and partners in specific areas where variant cases have been identified. In Bolton mobile testing units have been deployed and door to door PCR testing has been offered to 22,000 residents. A vaccine bus has been established in the heart of the community to increase vaccine uptake as part of a wider drive.

In London, PHE is working in close partnership across the health system and with borough councils in parts of the city where cases have been identified. PCR testing, whole genome sequencing and enhanced contact tracing are being used throughout the city to target the many small dispersed clusters. Taking this community-led approach has already proved effective in reducing transmission of variants in London to date.

Dr Susan Hopkins, COVID-19 Strategic Response Director at PHE, said:

Cases of this variant are rising in the community and we are continuously monitoring its spread and severity to ensure we take rapid public health action. We need to act collectively and responsibly to ensure that variants do not impact on the progress we have all made to drive down levels of Covid-19 and the increased freedom that brings. That means you should pay attention to and act on the local health advice in your area. Testing and isolating when required not only limits spread, it helps us to better understand how the variant behaves in the community which is vital to taking effective and proportionate action moving forward.

If you’re asked to take a test please do. The way to limit the spread of all variants is the same. Keep your distance, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, cover your nose and mouth when inside, keep buildings well ventilated and meet people from other households outside.

PHE is asking the public to continue to:

  • work from home where you can
  • follow the current guidance on mixing with others
  • take up the universal, free offer of twice weekly LFDs tests
  • if positive, order a confirmatory PCR test kit and stay at home
  • get vaccinated when you are called to do so

The other variants first detected in India, VUI-21APR-01 and VUI-21APR-03 have not been re-designated as VOCs, but this will be kept under constant review.

Following close monitoring, one Variant under Investigation VUI-21MAR-01, which includes the spike mutations E484K and N501Y, is now considered provisionally extinct in the UK. Designated a Variant under Investigation on 4 March, the contacts of confirmed cases were traced and followed public health advice to isolate. PHE defines a variant as provisionally extinct after 12 weeks without detection although we continue to monitor to see if they reappear.

Previous

Thursday 7 May

Public Health England (PHE) releases weekly updates on the number of confirmed new cases of variants of concern and variants under investigation identified in the UK.

The dominant variant continues to be VOC-20DEC-01 (B.1.1.7) and PHE will continue to monitor all variants closely. The best way to stop the spread of the virus is to remember: hands, face, space and follow the restrictions in place.

VUI-21APR-02 reclassified as a Variant of Concern (VOC)

Following a rise in cases in the UK and evidence of community transmission, PHE has reclassified VUI-21APR-02 (B.1.617.2, classified as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) on 28 April) as a Variant of Concern (VOC), now known as VOC-21APR-02.

This is based on evidence which suggests this variant, first detected in India, is at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7 (the Kent variant). The other characteristics of this variant are still being investigated.

There is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective. PHE is carrying out laboratory testing, in collaboration with academic and international partners to better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus.

Cases of VOC-21APR-02 have increased to 520 from 202 over the last week and almost half the cases are related to travel or contact with a traveller. The cases are spread across the country, however, the majority of the cases are in 2 areas – the North West (predominantly Bolton) and London – and this is where we are seeing the greatest transmission.

PHE health protection teams are working with local authorities, Directors of Public Health (DsPH) and NHS Test and Trace to detect cases and limit onward spread.

Surge and community testing is an effective way of finding and isolating new cases of variants and will be deployed where there is evidence of community transmission. This is in addition to the comprehensive work that is already underway to trace and test all contacts of cases.

Everyone in the affected areas will be asked to get a test, even if they don’t have symptoms. If someone tests positive, they must isolate to stop the spread.

In partnership with local DsPH, additional measures are being implemented across the country where there are clusters, to contain the spread. These include:

  • enhanced contact tracing for those testing positive with a VOC to define locations they may have acquired or transmitted infection to focus further testing
  • enhanced community and surge testing in areas defined by the local authorities and regional teams
  • working closely with communities and community leaders to ensure that individuals have the right support to test and isolate
  • increased community engagement, including ensuring that messages are accessible in languages that are used by communities and provided by trusted community representatives

Where clusters of other VOCs are detected, PHE will continue to take all appropriate public heath action to break the chains of transmission.

Understanding how this virus behaves in the community is key to assessing its transmissibility, severity and whether it responds to the vaccines currently in use, all of which help to determine the risk to the public from this variant. While overall rates of COVID-19 remain low, there are actions that everyone can take to reduce spread.

PHE is encouraging the public to continue to:

  • work from home where you can
  • follow the current guidance on mixing with others
  • take up the universal, free offer of twice weekly LFDs tests
  • if positive, order a confirmatory PCR test kit and stay at home
  • get vaccinated when you are called to do so

Dr Susan Hopkins, COVID-19 Strategic Response Director at PHE, said:

The way to limit the spread of all variants is the same and although we are all enjoying slightly more freedom, the virus is still with us. Keep your distance, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, cover your nose and mouth when inside and keep buildings well ventilated and meet people from other households outside. If you are told to get a test, if you have any symptoms at all or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, please make sure you get tested too.

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.

The current evidence suggests that the other variants detected in India, VUI-21APR-01 and VUI-21APR-03 are not VOCs, but this will be kept under constant review and investigations are ongoing into the reasons behind the different behaviours of these variants.

Previous

Thursday 29 April

Public Health England (PHE) releases weekly updates on the number of confirmed new cases of variants of concern and variants under investigation identified in the UK.

The dominant variant continues to be VOC-20DEC-01 (B.1.1.7) and PHE will continue to monitor all variants closely. The best way to stop the spread of the virus is to remember: hands, face, space and follow the restrictions in place.

Two VUIs added to B.1.617 group

Two variants have been designated Variants Under Investigation by PHE.

The 2 variants, VUI-21APR-02 and VUI-21APR-03, share the same parent lineage (B.1.617) as VUI-21APR-01, first identified in India. PHE has been monitoring these variants since early April.

VUI-21APR-01 was designated a Variant Under Investigation in April. The variant is from the B.1.617 lineage – a distinct fingerprint of genetic mutations. We have also identified cases of 2 additional variants, which are part of the same lineage and so are 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.

VUI-21APR-02 does not have the mutation E484Q while VUI-21APR-03 shares the L452R and E484Q mutations found in VUI-21-APR-01.

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.

Identified case numbers 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.

PHE has identified:

  • 172 cases of VUI-21APR-01
  • 202 cases of VUI-21APR-02
  • 5 cases of VUI-21APR-03

All appropriate public health interventions will be undertaken, including additional contact tracing and targeted testing.

Thursday 15 April

New Variant Under Investigation (VUI) designated

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.

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.

Tuesday 16 March

Two additional cases of Variant of Concern VOC-21JAN-02 (P.1) found in England

Two more cases of the Variant of Concern VOC-21JAN-02 (P.1) have been identified in England – one in the West Midlands and one in Haringey, London.

Both cases are linked with international travel to Brazil. The case in the West Midlands was identified following their arrival at Birmingham Airport, where they were tested and quarantined as part of the managed hotel quarantine process.

The London case was picked up through surge testing. Surge testing will be stepped up in the affected area, and contact tracing teams have undertaken a comprehensive investigation to identify any further contacts.

The latest cases bring the total number of P.1 variant cases in the UK to 12 – 9 in England and 3 in Scotland, all of which have links to travel or to a previously confirmed case that has travelled to Brazil.

New Variant Under Investigation (VUI) designated

A new variant has been designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by Public Health England (PHE).

On 9 March, PHE noted a report of 33 cases of a new variant reported by the Philippines. The variant includes a number of notable mutations including E484K and N501Y, which are found in several other variants of concern.

PHE has identified 2 cases of this variant in England. One of the cases is linked with international travel and the other is currently under investigation. All appropriate public health interventions are being undertaken.

This variant has been designated VUI-21MAR-02 (P.3). PHE and international partners continue to monitor the situation closely.

Saturday 13 March

Four more cases of Variant of Concern VOC-202101/02 (P.1) found in England

Four more cases of the Variant of Concern VOC-202101/02, also known as P.1, have been identified in England – 3 in South Gloucestershire and one in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

The cases in South Gloucestershire are all close or household contacts of the 2 existing P.1 cases in the area. They were offered testing in response to the initial cases.

Specialist contact tracing teams have undertaken a comprehensive investigation to identify any further contacts and additional testing has been in place since the initial cases were identified.

The individual in Bradford tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) in late February after travelling back from Brazil via Paris on 14 February 2021. Subsequent genomic sequencing confirmed the case as the P.1 variant. Contact tracing teams have followed up close contacts of the individual and advised them to isolate and get a test.

The latest cases bring the total number of P.1 variant cases in the UK to 10 – 7 in England and 3 in Scotland, all of which have links to travel or to a previously confirmed case that has travelled to Brazil.

New Variant Under Investigation (VUI) designated in UK

A new variant identified in the UK has been designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by PHE.

VUI-202103/01 (lineage B.1.324.1) was designated a VUI on 4 March after 2 cases were found in the South East of England in individuals who had recently travelled to Antigua. Despite the travel history of these cases there is no scientific evidence to determine where this variant first emerged.

The variant contains the spike mutations E484K and N501Y, both usually associated with variants of concern (VOC), however it does not feature specific deletions that would lead to a designation as a VOC.

Contact tracing teams have completed thorough investigations to identify and follow up any close contacts and no additional cases have been found to date.

Friday 5 March

Contact tracers successfully identify sixth case of P.1 Variant of Concern

PHE and NHS Test and Trace teams have successfully located the third individual in England who tested positive for the P.1 Variant of Concern that originated in Manaus, Brazil.

Tracing teams narrowed their search to a small number of households in Croydon, South London, when an individual from the borough made themselves known by responding to calls made by specialist contact tracers.

NHS Test and Trace were then able to match the barcode from the individual’s testing pack to the variant test result.

PHE is now carrying out enhanced contact tracing with the individual and other members of their household. The case had been in contact with an individual who travelled from Brazil in early February.

Although investigations are ongoing, current early indications are that all members of the household isolated for the correct amount of time after the traveller returned and after the case developed symptoms.

Doctor Fu-Meng Khaw, Strategic Response Director for PHE and Deputy Chief Medical Adviser for Test and Trace, said:

The identification of this individual is the result of an enormous collaborative effort between specialist teams at NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England.

Staff have been working around the clock to pursue every line of investigation and this is a fantastic result that enables us to fully investigate the circumstances around the case and reduce the risk of onward transmission.

As an additional precaution, we’re working closely with Croydon Council to put in place further testing in the area.

We are continuing to monitor all variants closely and the best way to protect against all COVID-19 infections is to remember the basics of Hands, Face, Space.

Thursday 4 March

New Variant Under Investigation designated in the UK

Sixteen cases of a new variant, VUI-202102/04 (lineage B.1.1.318), have been identified in the UK. The variant has been designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by Public Health England (PHE).

Cases of this variant, understood to have originated in the UK, were first identified on 15 February through genomic horizon scanning. All individuals who tested positive and their contacts have been traced and advised to isolate.

Following assessments, the variant was designated a VUI on 24 February. It contains the E484K mutation, which is also found in 2 existing VUIs present in the UK, but does not feature the N501Y mutation, present in all variants of concern (VOCs).

The addition of this variant as a VUI means there are now a total of 4 VUIs and 4 VOCs currently being tracked in the UK.

As of 3 March:

  • a total of 59 cases of the variant VOC-202012/02, first detected in South Africa, have been found in England where no travel links could be established
  • a total of 26 cases of the variant VUI-202101/01, the P2 variant first detected in Brazil, have been found in England where no travel links could be established

Previous

Tuesday 28 February

Cases of Variant of Concern first detected in Manaus identified in the UK

Up to 6 cases of the Variant of Concern first identified in Manaus, Brazil (P.1) have been detected in the UK. Public Health England (PHE) has identified 3 of these cases of the Variant of Concern in England.

Two of the cases in England are from one household in South Gloucestershire with a history of travel to Brazil and there is a third, currently unlinked case.

The cases in South Gloucestershire were rapidly followed up by the PHE Health Protection Team – cases and their contacts have been identified and retested. One case that had travelled to Brazil has been isolating at home with their household since returning to the UK.

PHE and NHS Test and Trace are following up with all passengers on Swiss Air flight LX318 travelling from Sao Paulo via Zurich and landing in London Heathrow on 10 February, to provide public health advice and test them and their households. Anyone who returned to the UK at that time should have gone home immediately from the airport and isolated for 10 days.

If you were a passenger on the flight and have not been contacted, please call 01174 503 174 to arrange a test for you and your household contacts.

Although the risk to the wider community is considered low, as a precaution, PHE, working in collaboration with South Gloucestershire Council and NHS Test and Trace, is taking swift and decisive action to deploy surge asymptomatic testing as well as increasing sequencing of positive samples from the area. Residents of South Gloucestershire should visit the council’s website for more information on testing. The most important actions are identifying cases and their contacts and supporting these individuals to isolate effectively.

Further investigation is underway regarding the third case in England. The individual did not complete their test registration card so follow-up details are not available. We are therefore asking for anyone who undertook a test on 12 or 13 February and hasn’t received their result or has an uncompleted test registration card, to call 119 in England or 0300 303 2713 in Scotland for assistance as soon as possible.

The P.1 variant has been designated ‘of concern’ as it shares some important mutations with the variant first identified in South Africa (B.1.351), such as E484K and N501Y.  It is possible that this variant may respond less well to current vaccines, but more work is needed to understand this.

Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE strategic response director for COVID-19 and NHS Test and Trace Medical Advisor, said:

We have identified these cases thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are finding more variants and mutations than many other countries and are therefore able to take action quickly.

The important thing to remember is that COVID-19, no matter what variant it is, spreads in the same way. That means the measures to stop it spreading do not change. Stay at home and if you do need to go out for essential reasons, cover your nose and mouth, wash your hands thoroughly and keep your distance.

We ask that individuals come forward for testing through the symptomatic and asymptomatic test sites across the countries in order to continue to drive down cases in the community.

Background

Three cases of the variant have also been identified in Scotland but these are not linked to these 3 cases in England.

Tuesday 16 February

Public Health England (PHE) has identified 38 cases of COVID-19 which genomic sequencing has shown to feature a specific set of mutations which are currently being referred to as lineage B.1.525. The set of mutations includes the E484K spike protein mutation, which is present on a number of other variants of concern and variants under investigation.

This variant has been designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) and will be referred to as VUI202102/03.

The variant has been detected in other countries, including Nigeria, Denmark and Canada.

Cases are geographically dispersed across England. Enhanced contact tracing and genomic sequencing is underway to monitor the situation as it develops.

Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at PHE, said:

PHE is monitoring data about emerging variants very closely and where necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, such as extra testing and enhanced contact tracing.

There is currently no evidence that this set of mutations causes more severe illness or increased transmissibility.

The best way to stop the spread of the virus is to follow the public health advice: wash your hands, wear a face covering and keep your distance from others. While in lockdown, it is important that people stay at home, where possible.

Regular updates of confirmed variant cases will be provided on this page.

Friday 15 January

As of Thursday 14 January 2021, 35 genomically confirmed and 12 genomically probable cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant which originated in South Africa (called VOC202012/02 in the UK, also named B1.351 and 501Y.V2 internationally) have been identified in the UK.

Two variants of interest have also been identified in Brazil. The first variant is variant under investigation (VUI) 202101/01 – this variant has a small number of mutations. The spread and significance of this variant remains under investigation. In partnership with COG-UK, 8 genomically confirmed cases of this variant have now been identified in the UK. All necessary public health action is being taken to follow-up the cases.

The second variant has been designated a Variant of Concern by NERVTAG, now termed VOC202101/02, and this variant has more mutations. We have NOT detected this second Brazil originated strain in the UK– this has been detected in Manaus and travellers arriving in Japan.

Laboratory work has begun on the VOC 202012/02 in the UK and is routinely undertaken on all variants under investigation or of concern once samples are available.

Dr Susan Hopkins, COVID Strategic Response Director at Public Health England, said:

We are continuing efforts to understand the effect of the variants on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.

For now, our advice remains the same following detection of a Brazilian variant in the UK, even though this is not the variant detected in Manaus with more mutations: the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to wash your hands, wear a face covering and keep your distance from others. Whilst in lockdown, it is important that we also stay at home unless it is absolutely essential to go out.

Through COG-UK, the UK is a global leader in SARS-CoV-2 genomics, providing around 48% of the genomic data supplied to GISAID, the scientific initiative which allows global, real-time surveillance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WGS is vital to the global response to the pandemic, allowing us to monitor and understand the evolution of new COVID-19 variants and respond with timely public health interventions.

In addition to the travel ban imposed on South Africa on 23 December 2020, the Department for Transport (DfT) has announced new restrictions for everyone arriving into the country from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Mauritius and Seychelles.

The restrictions follow new data on the steep rise in incidence of the B1.351 variant, which has vastly increased the risk of community transmission between these 9 southern African countries, as well as the Seychelles and Mauritius which have strong travel links with South Africa.

From 15 January 2021, the DfT has also imposed a subsequent travel ban to the UK from several South American countries and countries with strong travel links to Brazil. Passengers who have been in or transited through Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Panama, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela in the last 10 days will no longer be granted access to the UK.

British and Irish Nationals (and or third country nationals with residence rights in the UK) who have travelled from or transited through these countries must self-isolate for 10 days, as must members of their household. Contact tracing and testing of close contacts of confirmed cases will be used to identify and manage potential transmission. The decision to impose these restrictions has been taken to prevent the spread of the variant of coronavirus, known as VOC202101/02, into the UK.

The Isolation Assurance Service (IAS) will be contacting all returnees from all southern African countries, Mauritius and Seychelles to reinforce the advice to self-isolate, to encourage testing even if asymptomatic and to inform anyone treating/testing them of their recent travel.

Wednesday 23 December

The 2 cases were identified in the UK on 22 December 2020 and both have been in contact with someone who has travelled from South Africa. PHE’s Health Protection Teams have followed up with both cases and contact tracing is underway.

The new variant named B1.351 (also referred to as 501Y.V2) was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples at the beginning of October. Molecular dating suggests that it could have been in circulation from the end of August.

The rapid spread of the variant in South Africa could be an indication of increased transmissibility but this is not yet confirmed. PHE is investigating this variant and will share its findings in due course. There is currently no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. Epidemiological and virological investigations are also ongoing in South Africa.

It is not uncommon for viruses to undergo mutations; seasonal influenza mutates every year. More than 4,000 variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been identified in the UK and variants have been observed in many other countries.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser on COVID-19 to PHE & Test and Trace, said:

We are investigating this new variant of SARS-CoV-2 which originated in South Africa. Viruses often evolve and this is not unusual. We are carrying out work as a priority to understand the potential risk this variant may cause. It is important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccine would not protect against it.

The best way to stop infection is to stick to the rules – wash our hands, wear a face covering and keep our distance from others.

The recommended control measures to limit the spread of the new variant continue to be testing, following the existing public health guidance and abiding by the restrictions, including ‘Hands, Face, Space’ and limiting your number of contacts. DfT have announced new restrictions for everyone arriving in the country from South Africa.

Published 23 December 2020
Last updated 13 May 2021 + show all updates
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