A coronavirus strain first detected in India is likely to be elevated to a “variant of concern” after clusters were found in several areas of England, according to reports.
Cases of the variant are thought to have been found in schools, care homes and places of worship in the North West, London and the East Midlands, largely linked to travel.
It is thought it will be declared a “variant of concern” on Friday, although cases remain relatively low.
Such a change can mean an escalation in response from Public Health England (PHE), including ordering surge testing.
The strain – B1617.2 – is one of three related variants first seen in India which have been detected in the UK and designated “under investigation” by PHE.
The others are B1617.1 and B1617.3.
According to Channel 4 News, there have been at least 48 clusters of B1617.2, although overall numbers remain small.
PHE said updates on the number of cases due to be released on Thursday have been delayed due to “processing issues”.
According to the most recent data by PHE, there have been 193 confirmed cases of the B1617.1 variant, up by 61 since the last update on April 21.
The first report on the B1617.2 variant shows 202 cases, and the first report on the B1617.3 variant shows just five cases.
According to internal documents from PHE, dated to May 5 and seen by The Guardian, the ongoing risk to public health from the variant subtype B1617.2 is “high”.
It comes as seven confirmed cases of the B1617.2 variant were detected in Northern Ireland – the first discovered in the region.
Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride said the news was “not entirely unexpected” and that plans were in place “for such an eventuality”.
Health experts have said they “haven’t seen any hint” of a current Covid variant that can fully evade the effectiveness of vaccines.
The Department of Health and Social Care and PHE have been contacted for comment.