A new coronavirus variant has been detected in the UK for the first time.
There have been a reported 77 cases of B.1.617 – an Covid variant first detected in India which is being investigated by Public Health England.
The strain is said to carry mutations that could make it spread faster and partially evade immunity.
The variant is believed to play a part in the now surging outbreak in India where it was first found.
On Wednesday the Asian nation registered more than 198,000 new cases which makes up more than a third of fresh infections registered across the world.
Government sources said the UK is monitoring it ‘due to sustained international transmission’,reports.
Scientists first identified the Indian variant in March and it was described by the government in New Delhi as a ‘double mutant’.
They suggested that the mutation had formed as a hybrid of two other strains.
The Indian variant has two key mutations – E484Q and L452R – which differs it from others.
Both mutations are found on the ‘spike’ that the virus uses to latch onto human cells and it shows worrying signs of being more infectious and less easily targeted by the immune system.
This development brings the total number of variants detected in the UK to 56 including the South African strain which is top of the UK’s concerns.
A SAGE member, Professor John Edmunds, has warned if the South African variant keeps spreading uncontrollably in London, the city could face local lockdowns.
People living in four boroughs in London have been urged to get tested after cases of the variant were found in Wandsworth, Lambeth, Barnet and Southwark.
People aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through those boroughs are being urged to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, on top of twice-weekly rapid testing.
A Government scientist has warned that lockdown easing may have to be reversed If variants spread too quickly.
Professor Peter Openshaw said his fellow scientists were “very concerned” about the cluster of cases of the South African variant in the capital.
Prof Openshaw, a member of the Covid-19 clinical information network, told BBC2’s Newsnight: “A lot of we scientists are very concerned about what’s happening at the moment.
“I think we’re all just hoping that the staged reduction in lockdown is going to be ok. It is being done reasonably cautiously but I think this is not good news.
“If we get rapid spread of the South African or other more resistant variants, it may well be that we are going to have to put the reductions of lockdown into reverse.”
While vaccine chief Professor Anthony Harnden said scenes of people crowded outside pubs as restrictions began to ease would “push infection rates up.”
Prof Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) saidwas right to remind Brits that both lockdown and vaccines had been important in reducing hospital admissions and deaths.
He added: “Every time that we ‘unlockdown’, we push infection rates up, and the danger of pushing infection rates up is we get much more transmission in the community.
“And new variant strains such as the South African strain – we really don’t want that to become prevalent in this country because of course the vaccines don’t work quite as well (against it).
“So I think he’s trying to be cautious with everybody. We will all want to get our lives back, we all want to enjoy ourselves again, but we must be cautious and do this slowly. Otherwise we’ll get back to square one.”