The mutation, also known as VOC-21APR-02, had been earlier classified as a “variant under investigation” when it was first discovered in March. However, as the number of cases linked to the mutation increase, public health officials are moving fast to contain its spread.
“Following a rise in cases in the UK and evidence of community transmission, PHE has reclassified VUI-21APR-02 as a Variant of Concern (VOC), now known as VOC-21APR-02,” the Public Health England (PHE) said in a statement.
“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,” it added.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also acknowledged the seriousness of the new variant spread, calling on the government to carefully handle new outbreaks. Johnson said the door-to-door and surge testing will increase to stay ahead and contain any such outbreak.
“We’re doing a huge amount, obviously, to make sure that when we do find outbreaks of the Indian variant that we do surge testing, that we do door-to-door testing,” Johnson said in a statement.
Despite its high transmissibility, the PHE said that there is “insufficient evidence” that shows the Indian variant causes more severe diseases or renders coronavirus vaccines any less effective.
Under 40s to be offered alternative to Oxford jab
On Friday, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that people under the age of 40 be offered an alternative vaccine to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab following concerns over a link between it and a rare form of blood clots.
“The JCVI has advised a preference for adults aged 30 to 39 without underlying health conditions to receive an alternative to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – where available and only if this does not cause substantial delays in being vaccinated,” the committee said in a statement.
READ Explainer: What we know about the Indian variant as coronavirus sweeps South Asia
“This has been considered alongside the latest advice from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on extremely rare cases of concurrent thrombosis (blood clots) and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) following the first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine,” it added.
The updated recommendation was made following investigations in March from the UK’s MHRA and the EU’s European Medicines Agency that saw a link between blood clots and the Oxford jab.
The JCVI, however, reassured the public that coronavirus vaccines are highly effective and substantially reduce the risk of death by the virus as well as severe disease and the transmission of infection. The vaccines are also said to be effective against the various mutations of the virus.
“Over 35 million people have received a first dose so far. The vaccine programme is estimated to have prevented over 10,000 deaths by the end of March.”
On Friday 2,490 people had a confirmed positive test of the virus, adding this week’s total to 14,420. Fifteen deaths were reported within 28 days of testing positive for the virus on Friday, adding this week’s total to 81.
Over 35 million people were administered their first doses of vaccines by the end of May 6 with over 16 million people now having received the second. Vaccines are currently administered in two doses 12 weeks apart.