PUBLIC Health England have launched a probe into a new Covid variant from the Philippines after two cases were discovered in the UK.
The health authority said the variant contains a number of worrying mutations, including the E484K spike protein found in the Brazil strain.
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Concerns have been raised that vaccines may not be as effective against this protein.
A statement from PHE read: “The variant includes a number of notable mutations including E484K and N501Y, which are found in several other variants of concern.
“Public Health England has identified two cases of this variant in England. One of the cases is linked with international travel and the other is currently under investigation.
“All appropriate public health interventions are being undertaken.”
It came after the Philippines reported 33 cases of a new variant on March 9.
The country has recently seen a surge in cases, with close to 10,000 fresh infections added to the total tally over the weekend.
The Philippines, which aims to immunise 70 million of its 108 million people, has so far inoculated more than 193,000 since it started its vaccination drive on March 1.
Elsewhere, PHE also announced that two further cases of the Brazil variant had been found in the London area of Haringey and the West Midlands.
The E484K mutation has also been found in both the South African and Brazilian coronavirus variants.
Laboratory studies have shown that antibodies are less able to bind to a part of the virus known as the spike protein, in order to stop it from unlocking human cells to gain entry.
When the new strain first emerged experts said the symptoms were the same to variants already in circulation.
Experts fear that the E484K mutation could be better at evading the human immune response – and could reduce the efficacy of vaccines.
Studies for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines indicate a reduction in antibodies against the South Africa strain, which contains the variant, up to six-fold lower.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine had 57 per cent efficacy in South Africa versus 72 per cent in the US, and Novavax’s vaccine had 49 per cent efficacy in South Africa versus 90 per cent in the UK.
Another study suggested the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab was not effective at preventing mild illness caused by the more infectious South African mutation in young people.
Aside from the Brazil and South African variant, the government has also classified the Kent and Bristol strains as ‘variants of concern’.
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It comes just days after another Covid variant was detected in travellers coming from Antigua.
It was declared a Variant Under Investigation on March 4, and has two mutations which can evade vaccines and speed up transmission.
No other cases have been found of this variant so far, after teams worked to speak to any close contacts and the pair isolated.