Scientists are investigating a new coronavirus variant in the UK.
Public Health England (PHE) said on Friday that laboratory testing has commenced on the new B.1.621 variant.
Here is everything we know so far.
How many cases of the B.1.621 variant have been identified in the UK?
PHE said 16 infections have been identified so far, adding the majority are linked to overseas travel.
Where was the B.1.621 variant first identified?
PHE did not say in its releases published on Friday, but the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said it was first identified in Colombia in January.
Should we be concerned about the B.1.621 variant?
Not yet. Or at least no more concerned than we should be about the pandemic in general.
PHE said on Friday that there is “currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective”.
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There is also no evidence of community transmission in the UK, the agency said.
It has been designated a “variant under investigation”. It may be escalated to a “variant of concern”, depending on the findings of the laboratory tests.
What is the difference between a variant under investigation and a variant of concern?
PHE explains that COVID-19 variants, “if considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, are raised for formal investigation".
It added: “At this point they are designated variant under investigation (VUI) with a year, month, and number. Following a risk assessment with the relevant expert committee, they may be designated variant of concern (VOC).”
In addition to the new B.1.621 variant, there are 15 other VUIs and VOCs, including the Delta variant which currently accounts for 99% of the UK’s COVID cases.
How will PHE respond to the B.1.621 variant?
It said on Friday: “All appropriate public health interventions will be undertaken, including additional contact tracing and targeted testing.
“Where cases have been identified, additional follow-up of cases, testing of contacts and if required targeted case finding will be deployed to limit its spread.”
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