New Thai Covid strain found in the UK - but is it as infectious as the Indian variant?
A new Covid variant first detected in Thailand has now been identified in the UK.
But is this new coronavirus strain more transmissible than the Indian variant, and where has it been found in the UK?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Thai Covid variant?
Health officials confirmed on Thursday (27 May) that a variant first detected in Thailand had been found in the UK.
Public Health England (PHE) said the variant was imported from Egypt, which is currently on the UK’s amber list.
There have been 109 cases of the C.36.3 variant found so far, and investigations into the new strain began on Monday (24 May).
However, although officials said the variant had been “dispersed across the country”, they did not reveal where the cases had been found.
This comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock recently confirmed that “as many as three quarters” of all new cases are now of the Indian variant, which is expected to overtake the Kent variant as the dominant strain.
Cases of the Indian variant have doubled in a week, which has led to fresh doubts over the ending of Covid restrictions in England next month.
Officials are examining the data after confirmed cases of the Indian variant of Covid reached almost 7,000.
Epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson said the planned unlocking on 21 June now “hangs in the balance” due to the growth of the variant of concern.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said she agreed with Prof Ferguson’s reading of the situation, and said the Indian Covid variant numbers had become “quite worrying”.
She told a Downing Street press conference: “If you just look at the pure data which is out today it looks quite worrying.
“We had 3,535 cases of the 617.2 last week, and we have just about double that, 6,959, now.”
Is the Thai Covid variant more transmissible than the Indian variant?
Scientists are now carrying out tests to determine if the new strain reaches the threshold of being a ‘variant of concern’, as it is currently not yet known if the strain is more infectious than other variants, including the Indian variant.
In a statement published on its website, PHE said: “There is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective. PHE is carrying out laboratory testing to better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus.
“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 limit its spread.”