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.