Four people in the UK have now died in the UK after contracting the Indian variant of Covid-19, according to data published by Public Health England.
They are the first known domestic deaths from the new variant of the virus which has been declared a variant of concern in the UK.
While Covid-19 cases in most areas of the UK are at their lowest levels since August last year, there are concerns the Indian variant could see cases jump back up.
At present, there is no evidence the B16172 variant is resistant to current vaccines.
Although deemed to be more transmissible, it does not feature the E484K mutation found in the South African variant of the virus, which could help the virus evade a person’s immune system and may affect how well coronavirus vaccines work.
Professor Robert Dingwall, who is a member of Nervtag (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group) said: “This variant seems to be better managed by the vaccines than the South African variant so that vaccinated people have only a very low risk of infection that is likely to be mild.”
Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows a rise in cases from 520 to 1,313 this week in the UK, with the agency saying cases were “rising in the community” and it was assessing the impact and severity of the variant.
One response being considered is bringing forward the date for a second dose of vaccine for eligible groups to increase protection.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the situation was being monitored carefully and the Government “will not hesitate to take further action if necessary”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said there is “increasing concern” about the variant and warned the emergence of further new variants “pose a potentially lethal danger”.
Around one in 1,340 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to May 8 – down from one in 1,180 the previous week, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It is the lowest figure since the week to September 5 2020, when the estimate stood at one in 1,400.
In Wales, around one in 4,230 is estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to May 8 – down from one in 2,070 in the previous week, and the lowest since ONS estimates began in late July 2020.
In Northern Ireland, the estimate is around one in 1,430 people, down from one in 750 in the previous week.
The estimate for Scotland is around one in 1,250, down from one in 760 and the lowest since estimates began for Scotland in October.
All figures are for people in private households.