COVID-19 variants identified in the UK

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Latest update

The latest number of COVID-19 cases with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 in England are published on UKHSA’s social media channels.

Further information is also available in the latest variant technical briefing.

UKHSA is gathering scientific information as quickly as possible in order to inform the right balance of interventions to prevent transmission and protect lives. This includes analysing live samples of the new variant in our laboratories to investigate properties such as response to current vaccines.

Where individuals are suspected or confirmed to have the Omicron variant as the result of testing, their close contacts will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace, required to self-isolate and asked to take a PCR test, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated. 

Anyone who is contacted because of a link to a probable or possible Omicron case will be asked to take a PCR test, even if they have received a positive COVID-19 PCR test within the last 90 days.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

We are continuing our efforts to understand the effect of this variant on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.

Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against this new variant – please get your first, second, third or booster jab without delay.

A booster dose for everyone over 18 years is now recommended and will be available at a minimum of 3 months from your last primary course jab. Please take up this offer as soon as you are eligible to protect yourself, your families and your communities.

Please make sure to wear a mask in line with government guidance, including on public transport and in shops, to help break the chains of transmission and slow the spread of this new variant.

It’s critical that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.

Previous

3 December

A further 75 cases of Omicron variant confirmed

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified 75 further cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 in England, in addition to the previous 29 confirmed cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529.

The total number of confirmed cases in England is now 104.

The individuals who have tested positive and their contacts have been asked to self-isolate. Work is underway to identify any links to travel. We have now identified cases in the East Midlands, East of England, London, North East, North West, South East, South West and West Midlands. UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to be infectious.

1 case has been identified in Wales. A further 16 cases have been identified in Scotland, bringing the total in Scotland to 29. There are no confirmed cases in Northern Ireland.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

Increased case detection through focused contact tracing has led to more cases of the Omicron variant being identified and confirmed, as we have seen in other countries globally.

We are continuing to monitor the data closely. Teams nationally and locally are working at pace to identify and trace all close contacts of every Omicron case. It is critical that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.

We have started to see cases where there are no links to travel, suggesting that we have a small amount of community transmission. That’s why it’s so important that everybody, everywhere, takes simple steps to protect themselves from infection.  Please wear face coverings in line with government guidance, let in fresh air when mixing indoors and wash your hands regularly.

Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against this new variant so please get your first, second, third or booster jab as soon as you are eligible to protect yourself, your families and your communities.

Where individuals are identified as being a possible or probable case of Omicron, their close contacts will be contacted and advised they are required to isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or received a negative COVID-19 test result. Everybody who is contacted or has symptoms should take a PCR test as soon as possible, even if they have received a positive COVID-19 PCR test within the last 90 days.

UKHSA is acting to get scientific information available as quickly as possible in order to inform the right balance of interventions to prevent transmission and protect lives. This will include analysing live samples of the new variant in our laboratories to investigate properties including its response to current vaccines.

As viruses mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.

3 December

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has published a new variant technical briefing describing ongoing work on the Omicron variant. It includes a complete list of studies planned and already under way into the emerging variant. A new risk assessment for Omicron VOC-21NOV-01 (B.1.1.529) has also been published and is available here.

Delta remains the predominant variant in England, accounting for over 99% of all COVID-19 cases. As of 30 November 2021, there are 22 confirmed cases of Omicron (B.1.1.529), identified through sequencing or genotyping in England. None of these cases are known to have been hospitalised or died. More recent data on Omicron cases is published regularly here.

Available data are limited at this early stage, but it remains likely that the cases identified so far are a result of a number of separate introductions into the country.

Omicron has a deletion at position 69/70 of the spike protein which allows it to be tracked through S gene target failure (SGTF) in some PCR tests. Currently, approximately half of all tests conducted in the UK are able to detect SGTF. SGTF is not a 100% accurate test for Omicron and results are regularly evaluated against sequencing to ensure they are interpreted correctly. However, increases in SGTF can give a useful early indication of variant spread.

The proportion of test results displaying SGTF has been very low in recent months but an increase has been observed in the past week. This is still a very small number of cases but is being investigated carefully to understand whether it is related to travel, any other variant or whether there is evidence of spread of Omicron beginning in the community.

UKHSA Chief Executive, Jenny Harries said:

I want to thank everyone who has been working globally and locally to help us act incredibly quickly in response to the Omicron variant. Thanks to very high levels of vaccine coverage we already have a robust wall of defence against COVID-19 as new variants emerge. We are working as fast as possible to gather more evidence about any impact the new variant may have on severity of disease or vaccine effectiveness. Until we have this evidence, we must exercise the highest level of caution in drawing conclusions about any significant risks to people’s health.

The most important thing everyone can do now is to get any vaccine dose that you are eligible for – it is by far the most effective action you can take to protect yourself, your families and your communities. It is also vital to continue with all the other precautions we have become used to throughout the pandemic – keep indoor areas well ventilated, wear a face covering in enclosed spaces, and take a rapid lateral flow (or LFD) test before a situation where you may be at high risk of catching or passing on the virus.

Previous

Thursday 2 December

A further 7 cases of Omicron variant confirmed

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified 7 further cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 in England, in addition to the previous 22 confirmed cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529. The total number of confirmed cases in England is now 29.

The individuals who have tested positive and their contacts are all isolating. Work is underway to identify any links to travel. We have now identified cases in the East Midlands, East of England, London, South East and North West. UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to be infectious.

A further 3 cases have been identified in Scotland, bringing the total to 13.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

“We are continuing our efforts to understand the effect of this variant on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.

“Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against this new variant – please get your first, second, third or booster jab without delay.

“A booster dose for everyone over 18 years is now recommended and will be available at a minimum of 3 months from your last primary course jab. Please take up this offer as soon as you are eligible to protect yourself, your families and your communities.

“Please make sure to wear a mask in line with government guidance, including on public transport and in shops, to help break the chains of transmission and slow the spread of this new variant.

“It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing. That’s why it’s critical that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.”

Where individuals are identified as being a possible or probable case, their close contacts will be contacted and advised to isolate for 10 days and to take a test. Everybody who is contacted or has symptoms should take a PCR test as soon as possible, even if they have received a positive COVID-19 PCR test within the last 90 days.

UKHSA is acting to get scientific information available as quickly as possible in order to inform the right balance of interventions to prevent transmission and protect lives. This will include analysing live samples of the new variant in our laboratories to investigate properties such as response to current vaccines.

As viruses mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.

The breakdown of cases by local authority is:

  • Barnet: 2
  • Bexley: 1
  • Brentwood: 1
  • Buckinghamshire: 2
  • Camden: 2
  • Chiltern: 1
  • Haringey: 1
  • Lambeth: 1
  • Lancaster: 1
  • Lewisham: 2
  • Liverpool: 1
  • Newham: 1
  • North Norfolk: 1
  • Nottingham: 1
  • Oxfordshire: 1
  • South Cambridgeshire: 1
  • South Northamptonshire: 2
  • Spelthorne: 1
  • Sutton: 1
  • Three Rivers: 1
  • Wandsworth: 1
  • Westminster: 3

Wednesday 1 December

A further 9 cases of Omicron variant confirmed

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified 9 further cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 in England, in addition to the previous 13 confirmed cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529. The total number of confirmed cases in England is now 22.

The individuals that have tested positive and their contacts are all isolating. Work is underway to identify any links to travel to Southern Africa. We have now identified cases in the East Midlands, East of England, London, South East and North West. UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to be infectious.

A further case has been identified in Scotland, bringing the total to 10.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

We are continuing our efforts to understand the effect of this variant on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.

Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against this new variant – please get your first, second, third or booster jab without delay.

Following the change in JCVI advice earlier this week, a booster dose for everyone over 18 years is now recommended and will be available at a minimum of 3 months from your last primary course jab. Please take up this offer as soon as you are eligible to protect yourself, your families and your communities.

Please make sure to wear a mask in line with government guidance, including on public transport and in shops, to help break the chains of transmission and slow the spread of this new variant.

It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing. That’s why it’s critical that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.

UKHSA has updated its stay at home guidance and non-household contacts guidance to reflect changes to self-isolation requirements for contacts of people who have been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

UKHSA is acting to get scientific information available as quickly as possible in order to inform the right balance of interventions to prevent transmission and protect lives. This will include analysing live samples of the new variant in our laboratories to investigate properties such as response to current vaccines.

As viruses mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.

The breakdown of cases by local authority is:

  • Barnet: 2
  • Bexley: 1
  • Brentwood: 1
  • Buckinghamshire: 1
  • Camden: 2
  • Haringey: 1
  • Lancaster: 1
  • Lewisham: 2
  • Liverpool: 1
  • Newham: 1
  • North Norfolk: 1
  • Nottingham: 1
  • South Cambridgeshire: 1
  • Sutton: 1
  • Three Rivers: 1
  • Wandsworth: 1
  • Westminster: 3

Tuesday 30 November 2021

Further 8 cases of Omicron variant confirmed

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified 8 further cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 in England, in addition to the previous 5 confirmed cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529. The total number of confirmed cases in England is now 13.

The individuals that have tested positive and their contacts are all isolating. Work is underway to identify any links to travel to Southern Africa. We have now identified cases in the East Midlands, East of England, London and North West. UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to be infectious.

Nine cases have also been identified in Scotland, with 5 cases in the Lanarkshire area and 4 in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

We are continuing our efforts to understand the effect of this variant on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.

Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against this new variant – please get your first, second, third or booster jab without delay.

Following the change in Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advice yesterday, a booster dose for everyone over 18 years is now recommended at a minimum of 3 months from your last primary course jab. Please take up this offer as soon as you are invited to protect yourself, your families and your communities.

Please make sure to wear a mask in line with government guidance, including on public transport and in shops, to help break the chains of transmission and slow the spread of this new variant.

It’s very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing. That’s why it’s critical that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.

UKHSA is acting to get scientific information available as quickly as possible in order to inform the right balance of interventions to prevent transmission and protect lives. This will include analysing live samples of the new variant in our laboratories to investigate properties such as response to current vaccines.

As viruses mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.

Background

The breakdown of cases by local authority is:

  • Barnet: 2
  • Brentwood: 1
  • Camden: 2
  • Haringey: 1
  • Liverpool: 1
  • North Norfolk: 1
  • Nottingham: 1
  • Sutton: 1
  • Wandsworth: 1
  • Westminster: 2

Monday 29 November 2021

A further 2 cases of Omicron variant confirmed

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified 2 further cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 in England, in addition to the previous 3 confirmed cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529 on 27 and 28 November. The total number of confirmed cases in England is now 5.

The individuals that have tested positive are not connected to each other and are not linked to the previously confirmed cases. Both have links to travel to Southern Africa. One case is located in Camden, London, and one case is located in Wandsworth, London. The individuals and their households have been told to self-isolate. UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive cases were likely to be infectious.

Six cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529 have also been identified in Scotland, with 4 cases in the Lanarkshire area and 2 in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

We are continuing our efforts to understand the effect of this variant on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.

Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against this new variant – please get your first, second or booster jab without delay.

The guidance on vaccination is changing to help all of us bolster our defences in the face of this new variant. Everyone should complete a primary course as soon as possible – for most this will be a first and second dose. For some more vulnerable a third dose is available.

Following the change in JCVI advice today, a booster dose for everyone over 18 years is now recommended and will be available at a minimum of 3 months from your last primary course jab. Please take up this offer as soon as you are eligible to protect yourself, your families and your communities.

It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing. That’s why it’s critical that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.

UKHSA is acting to get scientific information available as quickly as possible in order to inform the right balance of interventions to prevent transmission and protect lives. This will include analysing live samples of the new variant in our laboratories to investigate properties such as response to current vaccines.

As viruses mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.

Sunday 28 November 2021

A further case of Omicron variant confirmed

Following the first 2 confirmed cases of the SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529 on 27 November, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has identified one further case of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 in the UK.

The individual tested positive after travel to the UK and is linked to travel to Southern Africa. The individual is no longer in the UK, but UKHSA is carrying out targeted testing at locations where the positive case visited when they were likely to have been infectious. While in the UK, the individual was in Westminster, London.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

Our advanced sequencing capabilities enable us to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread. It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focussed contact tracing.

We are continuing our efforts to understand the effect of this variant on transmissibility, severe disease, mortality, antibody response and vaccine efficacy.

It’s critical that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms isolates and gets a PCR test immediately.

Vaccination is critical to help us bolster our defences against this new variant – please get your first, second or booster jab without delay. Wear a mask in crowded places, including public transport and shops, to ensure we all help break the chains of transmission and slow the spread of this new variant.

UKHSA designated variant B.1.1.529 as a variant under investigation (VUI) on Thursday 25 November.  It was designated a variant of concern (VOC) on Saturday 27 November.

The B.1.1.529 variant includes a large number of spike protein mutations as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. These are potentially biologically significant mutations which may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility.

UKHSA, in partnership with scientific bodies across the globe, is constantly monitoring the status of SARS-CoV-2 variants as they emerge and develop worldwide. We are particularly grateful to health protection specialists and the government of South Africa for early sharing of local information on the omicron variant in an exemplary way to support global health security.

UKHSA is acting to get scientific information available as quickly as possible in order to inform the right balance of interventions to prevent transmission and protect lives. This will include analysing live samples of the new variant in our laboratories to investigate properties such as response to current vaccines.

As viruses mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.

Friday 26 November 2021

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has announced the emerging SARS-CoV-2 variant known as B.1.1.529 as a variant under investigation (VUI).

The first genomes of this variant were uploaded to the international GISAID database on 22 November. Genomes have now been uploaded from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong but the extent of spread is not yet determined. No cases have been identified in the UK.

B.1.1.529 has a large number of mutations in the gene coding for the spike protein, and also in other parts of the viral genome.  These are potentially biologically significant mutations which may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to immune escape, transmissibility or susceptibility to treatments, but this has not been proven. More investigation is required to fully determine the extent of these mutations’ impact.

UKHSA is monitoring the situation closely, in partnership with scientific and public health organisations across the world.

UKHSA’s most recent variant technical briefing can be found on GOV.UK.

Friday 22 October 2021

Delta sub-lineage AY.4.2 designated as a variant under investigation by UK Health Security Agency

The Delta variant sub-lineage known as Delta AY.4.2 was designated a variant under investigation (VUI) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on 20 October 2021 and has been given the official name VUI-21OCT-01.

The designation was made on the basis that this sub-lineage has become increasingly common in the UK in recent months, and there is some early evidence that it may have an increased growth rate in the UK compared to Delta. More evidence is needed to know whether this is due to changes in the virus’ behaviour or to epidemiological conditions.

The genome of VUI-21OCT-01 does not have many mutations compared to Delta. However, a small change may be enough to cause a difference in the virus properties in some circumstances. UKHSA is monitoring this closely.

The original Delta variant remains overwhelmingly dominant in the UK, making up approximately 99.8% of all cases. As of 20 October, there were 15,120 cases of VUI-21OCT-01 confirmed by whole genome sequences in England since it was first detected in July. In the last week, VUI-21OCT-01 accounted for approximately 6% of all Delta cases. Cases have been confirmed through whole genome sequencing in all 9 regions of England.

While evidence is still emerging, so far it does not appear this variant causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective. As is routine for any new variants under investigation, UKHSA is carrying out laboratory and epidemiological investigations to better understand the properties of this variant.

Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said:

Viruses mutate often and at random, and it is not unexpected that new variants will continue to arise as the pandemic goes on, particularly while the case rate remains high. It is testament to the diligence and scientific expertise of my colleagues at UKHSA, and the genomic sequencing capacity developed through the pandemic, that this new variant has been identified and analysed so quickly. However, it should serve as objective evidence that this pandemic is not over.

The public health advice is the same for all current variants. Get vaccinated and, for those eligible, come forward for your third or booster dose as appropriate as soon as you are called. Continue to exercise caution. Wear a mask in crowded spaces and, when meeting people indoors, open windows and doors to ventilate the room. If you have symptoms take a PCR test and isolate at home until you receive a negative result.

UKHSA continues to examine all available data relating to SARS-CoV-2 variants in the UK and abroad. We constantly assess the genetic diversity within the known variants of concern (VOCs) to inform our ongoing public health response to the pandemic. New sub-lineages within Delta continue to be identified. This is to be expected and UKHSA is monitoring the situation closely.

Friday 1 October 2021

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has published variant technical briefing 24.

UKHSA releases weekly updates on the number of confirmed new cases of variants of concern and variants under investigation identified in the UK.

Previous updates were published by Public Health England

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