A new Indian strain of coronavirus that may evade immunity has been detected in the UK for the first time.
A total of 77 cases of the new strain, known as the B1617 variant, have been recorded in Britain up until 14 April, according to Public Health England. Four of those have been linked to Scotland, while 73 have been detected in England.
The variant has two new significant mutations in the spike protein that are thought to help it infect cells and evade antibodies in the immune system.
The combination, called a double mutant, is of particular concern to scientists. It is not yet known whether the new strain is any more resistant to available vaccines.
The variant is thought to be behind a huge spike in infections in India, where more than 200,000 new Covid cases were recorded yesterday alone.
Ministers are facing fresh calls to place India on the travel red list to curb the spread of further cases reaching British shores.
Currently, travellers returning to the UK from India are not required to quarantine in a government-selected hotel, but instead must take two Covid tests before quarantining at home for 10 days.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the arrival of the Indian variant was a significant concern.
“These two escape mutations working together could be a lot more problematic than the South African and Brazilian variants who have only got one escape mutation,” he told The Guardian.
“It might be even less controlled by vaccine than the Brazilian and South African variants.”
It comes as Boris Johnson today confirmed he will press ahead with a planned visit to India latest this month despite a second wave of coronavirus sweeping the nation. The Prime Minister has already cut the trip short and reduced the size of his delegation.
Johnson is keen to use the trip to urge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to slash import tariffs on British whisky and cars, as part of attempts to negotiate an interim free trade deal with the nation.