Four hundred cases of the Indian Covid-19 variant of concern have been detected in London using genomic sequencing, official figures revealed today.
They are believed to be largely household clusters linked to people who travelled from India.
Out of the 400 “confirmed or probable” cases of the B.1.617.2 Indian mutation of the virus, 106 were “cases that have travelled”, according to the latest figures.
Professor Kevin Fenton, London director of Public Health England, said: “We are working closely with local public health teams and borough councils to increase targeted and community testing where needed and implement whole genome sequencing and enhanced contact tracing where cases have been identified.”
He added: “The best thing Londoners can do to avoid catching or spreading this and all variants is to get tested, get vaccinated when offered, and keep to the basics of Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air.
“This will be increasingly important as restrictions ease further on Monday and we begin to socialise indoors.”
Scientists believe cases in London have now risen significantly higher than the 400, around a third of the England figure, as it takes about two weeks to confirm variants through genomic sequencing. There is not believed to be evidence so far of significant spread of this Indian variant in the community in the capital.
London had the highest number of confirmed or probable cases of B.1.617.2, followed by the North-West on 319, with 98 in the South-East.
This Indian variant is believed to spread faster than the Kent mutation which made up most of the second wave cases in Britain.
Scientists are not yet clear how effective vaccines will be against the new variant.
The number of cases of the Indian variant of concern in London more than doubled in a week, the Standard has established.
Data from Public Health England said there had been 400 cases in the capital detected up to May 12, compared with 191 in the period to May 5.
Of the 400 cases, 106 were in people who had travelled outside of the UK. PHE said the greatest number of all variants — including the South African variant that first came to light before Christmas — had been detected in Hillingdon and Hounslow, with between 20 and 49 cases per borough.
There are three Indian variants being studied by PHE — one is classed as a variant of concern and two as variants under investigation.
Surge testing is taking place in Hillingdon, Hounslow, Kensington & Chelsea, Redbridge and Tower Hamlets, but primarily in search of the South African variant.
Teams in Tower Hamlets are also on the lookout for the Brazilian variant.
The surge testing was mostly introduced last week after cases of the South African variant were confirmed.
The checks are likely to now be expanded in the capital after the spread of the Indian variant. In other developments:
•Ministers are considering measures to stop another Covid-19 wave fuelled by the Indian variant this summer. They include bringing forward second jabs in Indian variant hotspots, vaccinating all adults in multi-generational households in these areas, racing to give younger adults vaccinations, surge testing and possibly further local restrictions. A rapid response team has already been sent to Bolton which is one area seeing a worrying outbreak of the Indian Covid-19 mutation.
•Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi urged the public to help suppress a rise in Covid-19 cases driven by the Indian variant.
Asked on LBC Radio whether plans for the final stage of easing lockdown June 21 could be paused, he said: “The way we don’t have to do that is by everybody doing their bit, by taking the two tests a week, doing your PCR test in those areas, and to isolate, isolate, isolate [after a positive test].”
Mr Zahawi said the seven-day rolling average for infections show a 12.4 per cent rise across the country, but hospital admissions are down by 7.9 per cent.
Scientists, though, warned of potentially thousands of hospitalisations if there is another big wave of cases.