UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled trip to India as a highly infectious double mutant Covid-19 variant first found in India has also been detected in UK.
The variant B1617 was designated on Thursday a "variant under investigation" by Public Health England (PHE), reports Times of India.
It means it has concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties and requires investigation.
PHE said that up to April 14 it had identified 77 cases of the "Indian variant" in Britain — 73 in England and four in Scotland.
PHE said: "The variant, first detected in India, includes a number of mutations, including E484Q, L452R, and P681R. All appropriate public health interventions will be undertaken, including enhanced contact tracing. PHE and international partners continue to monitor the situation closely."
L452R is responsible for several large outbreaks in California and E484Q is similar to a mutation seen in the South Africa and Brazil variants.
Together, E484Q and L452R, found together for the first time in India, are known to be more infectious, more transmissible and to evade antibodies. It is likely the India variant is at least in part driving the current exponential rise in cases in India — with more than 200,000 cases recorded on Wednesday.
The Kent (UK) variant (also known as B117) is currently the dominant variant in Britain and, alongside the South Africa and Brazil variants, it is designated a "variant of concern".
Professor Christina Pagel, director of the Operational Research Unit at UCL and a member of Independent Sage, tweeted: "B1617 is worrying because it has some potentially worrying mutations not seen in the SA, Kent or Brazil strains. This variant might escape both T-cell and antibody action. India going through a big surge — mix of B117 & new B1617. Johnson should not go on a trip to Delhi this month! Madness! You can't transmit Covid by Zoom. The situation in India is very bad and worsening."
"With India's Covid-19 cases at more than 200,000 a day, and worries about a new strain there, it is extraordinary it has not been put on the red list for travel. The conspiracy theory from senior Tories is that the PM wants to avoid it going on the red list because that could derail his forthcoming official visit there," tweeted ITV News political editor Robert Peston. "And if the trip were canned, the EU's trade talks with India would begin before Johnson's."
Downing Street sources told TOI that Boris Johnson's trip to India would be going ahead in a pared-back fashion, with the bulk of the programme now taking place in Delhi on April 26. The issue of whether to add India to the red list and the trip were "under constant review" based on the latest scientific evidence.
Pakistan and Bangladesh were added to the UK travel red list on April 9.
People travelling from countries on the red list are banned from entering the UK unless they are British citizens or have residency rights, in which case they have to undergo mandatory quarantine and Covid testing at a government-approved hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,750 (Rs 1.7 lakh) per adult.