New Covid-19 strain declared as ‘Variant Under Investigation’ - what we know so far

By Rhona Shennan
Friday, 12th March 2021, 10:48 am
Updated Monday, 22nd March 2021, 9:27 am
A new Covid-19 variant has been listed as a 'Variant Under Investigation' (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A new Covid-19 variant has been listed as a 'Variant Under Investigation' (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The Government announced that a new variant identified in the UK has been declared a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) by Public Health England (PHE).

The strain was designated a VUI on 4 March, after two cases were found in the South East of England in individuals who had recently travelled to Antigua, which is located in the Caribbean.

In a statement, the Government said: “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 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.”

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    The difference between Variant of Concern and Variant Under Investigation

    The Government explains: “SARS-CoV-2 variants, if considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, are raised for formal investigation.

    “At this point they are designated Variant Under Investigation (VUI) with a year, month, and number.

    “Following a risk assessment with the relevant expert committee, they may be designated Variant of Concern (VOC).”

    Other Variants of Concern

    Another variant, known as the P.1 variant, has also caused concern as a number of cases have been identified.

    Listed as a Variant of Concern, the P.1 variant is also known as the Brazilian coronavirus variant or the Manaus variant.

    At the end of February, three cases of the variant were first detected in the UK - now, the total number of cases in the UK has increased to 10, with seven in England and three in Scotland.

    The Government said: “Specialist contact tracing teams have undertaken a comprehensive investigation to identify any further contact and additional testing has been in place since the initial cases were identified.”

    On the Government website, there are currently nine Variants of Concern or Variants Under Investigation.