Fears are rising over the South African variant following reports that several infected people had received at least one vaccine dose.
An extra 56 cases were reported in the week up to April 14, according to government figures, which takes the total confirmed cases of the variant to 600.
Officials are scrambling to contain an outbreak of the strain in London, with additional testing facilities set up for hundreds of thousands of people.
A Test and Trace official reportedly said that several people were infected despite having had at least one dose of the Oxford or Pfizer vaccine, according to the Financial Times.
People stand in line for coronavirus surge testing on Clapham Common, south London, April 14
The B.1.617 variant is thought to have contributed to the now surging outbreak in India, where it was first found, and sources said the UK is monitoring it ‘due to sustained international transmission’
The variant is known to have a mutation which could help it evade the immune response of inoculated people, although experts have stressed it is highly unlikely to render any vaccine useless.
Home testing kits are now being delivered in the N3 postcode area of Barnet, north London, and tests are being offered in the boroughs of Lambeth, Wandsworth and the Rotherhithe ward of Southwark.
A SAGE member, Professor John Edmunds, has warned if the South African variant keeps spreading uncontrollably in London, the city could face local lockdowns.
Professor Edmunds, speaking on ITV’s Peston yesterday, said that strain was ‘the most worrying’ and that officials should do everything possible to control it.
‘What we are looking at in south London is an example of what we’ll see now in the coming months as we try our best to keep that variant out, or at as low a level as we possibly can.’
Meanwhile, a ‘double mutant’ virus first found in India has been discovered in 77 people in the UK.
The Indian strain is under investigation along with six others. It is not clear how it entered the UK. A double mutant has two concerning mutations in the same virus.
The Indian variant was first spotted by scientists in March when it was described by the government in New Delhi as a ‘double mutant’.
They suggested that the variant had formed as a hybrid of two other strains and that it showed signs of being more infectious and less easily targeted by the immune system.
Two key mutations set it apart from others – named E484Q and L452R – with both of them found on the ‘spike’ that the virus uses to latch onto human cells.
These are not thought to be key mutations of any of the other variants on Public Health England’s list, but have appeared in virus samples before.
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at Reading University, said at the time: ‘As for the L452R mutation, we’re still waiting for a proper definition of what it does.’
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INDIA VARIANT?
Real name: B.1.617
When and where was it discovered? The variant was first reported as being of concern by the Indian government in late March. The first cases appear to date back to October 2020.
What mutations does it have? The two main mutations are named E484Q and L452R, which scientists suspect can help it to transmit faster and to get past immune cells made in response to older variants. Those mutations are routinely not found on other variants monitored by Public Health England.
How many people in the UK have been infected with it? 77 people so far, according to a report published on April 15. Their locations are unknown.