Public Health England (PHE) has said that a “new Covid triple variant” is “under investigation” in Yorkshire and the Humber.
The new “triple threat” variant of the virus has a “strange combination” of genes which health officials identified, but the public are being urged not to be alarmed.
PHE have officially called the new variant VUI-21MAY-01 or AV.1 variant, and it is not believed to be anymore transmissible than other strains circulating in the UK.
Greg Fell, director of public health in Sheffield said, “We have been monitoring VUI-21MAY-01 and we’re managing this carefully as we do with all outbreaks across the city.
“There is no evidence to suggest this strain is any more transmissible than other strains identified in the UK and across the world, or to suggest the vaccine doesn’t work against this strain.”
He added, “Please don’t be alarmed, we want you to continue doing what you have been for the past year.
“Follow the guidance, continue to wash your hands regularly and wear a mask indoors.
“Where cases have been identified, additional follow-up of cases, testing of contacts and targeted case finding will be used to limit the spread of variants.”
The R rate which is the reproductive rate which monitors the spread of Covid is now estimated to be up to 1.1, which is the highest it has been sine the peak of the second wave.
Professor Andrew Hayward, who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and infectious diseases expert at University College London, gave a grim warning that he is “very concerned” the Indian variant is spreading so quickly and said the UK could be at the start of a third wave.
Speaking to the BBC he said, “That really brings it back down to this race against the vaccine and the virus, except the virus just got faster.
The BBC asked him if the UK was at the start of the third wave, the Professor said, “I think so. I think what we can see is that this strain can circulate very effectively, although it was originally imported through travel to India, it’s spread fairly effectively first of all within households and now more broadly within communities, so I don’t really see why it wouldn’t continue to spread in other parts of the country.
“Obviously we’re doing everything we can to contain the spread of that, but it’s likely that more generalised measures may start to be needed to control it.”
He added, “Fortunately we’ve had a good proportion of the population vaccinated, but there’s still people who aren’t vaccinated in high-risk groups, the vaccine isn’t 100%, effective, and also even in the younger groups if you get many, many thousands or hundreds of thousands of cases, then you will expect a lot of hospitalisations and deaths to result from that.
“So that’s the threat.
“And it’s really over the next week or two we will see how much these outbreaks that at the moment are relatively localised, how much they become generalised across the population.
“And if that happens, that’s when we’re going to be much more worried.”