Original article from Kent Live
Over 400 cases of two mutant COVID strains spreading rapidly in India have been identified in London and the South East region.
Public Health England escalated one particular strain, known by scientists as B.1.617.2, as a variant of concern at the end of last week.
Its technical briefing published the following day (May 7) reveals there have been 191 cases detected in London already.
Just 41 of them were found in people with a recent travel history, suggesting transmission in communities is well underway.
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In the South East, 53 cases of B1617.2 have been discovered, with more than half of those testing positive having no recent travel history.
There were also some 168 cases of "genomically provisional cases" of the strain awaiting final confirmation.
Added to 109 cases in London of another Indian strain B1617.1, and 23 cases in the South East, well over 400 Indian variant cases have been found in our region so far.
Public Health England also warned a "lag in sequencing" means the numbers may be much higher.
It said a programme was underway to assess vaccine effectiveness.
The new report assessed the Indian variant as having "at least equivalent transmissibility" as the Kent variant, and that the lag in sequencing meant it "may have replaced B117 to some extent" already.
The report says: ""There has been a steep recent increase in the number of cases identified of this variant of concern in the UK, which includes both imported and domestically-acquired cases.
"Postcodes of residence are most frequently identified as London and the North West.
"B.1.617.2 has spread rapidly in India based on available data.
"There have been multiple importations to the UK and onwards transmission within the UK.
"In some regions, Sgene target data suggests that this variant may… be more frequent than is indicated by the current sequence data, due to the lag in sequencing, and may have replaced B.1.1.7 to some extent.
"There are insufficient data as yet to assess reinfection or vaccine effectiveness through national surveillance.
"National vaccine effectiveness monitoring for this variant has commenced.
"The majority of cases are very recent and there has been insufficient follow up time to allow an assessment of severity."
The Government recently announced extra funding to fast-track new vaccines to help "future-proof" the UK against new coronavirus variants.
Separately, they said booster jabs of current vaccines would be ready to deploy from September.