ixteen cases of a new coronavirus variant in the UK have been discovered, health officials have revealed.
Public Health England (PHE) said cases of the variant, referred to as VUI-202102/04, were first identified on February 15 through genomic horizon scanning.
All individuals who tested positive and their contacts have been traced and advised to isolate, PHE said on Thursday.
The latest variant, which is understood to have originated in the UK, shares has a mutation in common with the South Africa and Brazil variants.
Experts believe the E484K mutation may help the virus evade some immunity from vaccination or prior infection.
The latest strain, also known as B.1.1.318, was designated a “variant under investigation” (VUI) on February 24. Variants of Covid-19 can be identified as VUIs or “variants of concern” (VOCs).
New variants emerge regularly and experts are conducting frequent analysis to see which are of concern, and which are not.
The findings mean there are now four VUIs and four VOCs being tracked by scientists in the UK.
Other VUIs include one from Brazil, known as P2, which has had 43 probable or confirmed cases identified in the UK, but is not causing scientists serious concern.
PHE said that, as of Wednesday, a total of 26 cases of the P2 variant had been found in England where no travel links could be established.
Two further VUIs – dubbed A.23.1 with E484K and B.1.525 – have seen 78 and 86 probable or confirmed UK cases detected respectively.
Both were first detected in the UK in December.
Additional testing is currently being made available for targeted areas of England to suppress the spread of VOCs.
This includes surge testing in South Gloucestershire after cases of the Manaus variant of coronavirus were discovered.
This variant of concern – known as P.1 – was detected in Brazil and in travellers from Brazil to Japan, and was associated with a surge of cases in Manaus late last year.
Six cases of this variant of concern have been found in the UK – three in Scotland and three in England.
Elsewhere, additional testing in targeted parts of London and Stockton-on-Tees, in County Durham, aims to suppress the spread of the South African variant of concern, which was first sequenced in the UK in December 2020.
PHE said that, as of Wednesday, a total of 59 cases of the South African variant have been found in England where there were no travel links.
Another VOC is the UK/Kent variant called B117 which was first detected in the UK and first sequenced in the country in September 2020.
A fourth VOC is the UK/Kent variant + E484K mutation, which was first detected in Bristol and is the B117 variant with the genetic change also found in both the South African and Brazilian VOCs, E484K.