New Covid strain found in Bristol is branded 'variant of concern' by health officials
A NEW Covid strain found in Bristol has been branded a "variant of concern" by health officials.
The Government's emergency virus group Nervtag, said the new variant which emerged last week has a well-known mutation, which is seen in the South African strain too.
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It comes as a new cluster of cases in Liverpool are still under investigation.
The new variants sparked concern last week when they prompted doorstep testing in both cities.
Mass 'surge' testing is also underway in ten other parts of the UK, where the home-grown cases of the South African strain are feared to have spread.
Meanwhile, last night, 10,000 more people living in Manchester were urged to get tested amid fears the Bristol strain has been detected there too.
The mutation is already present in both South African and Brazilian coronavirus variants.
It was previously thought this mutation was not present in the UK variant, also known as B.1.1.7.
But official last week identified the first 11 cases of the South African variant with no links to travel, sparking a surge in doorstep testing.
Officials said gene sequencing has shown that the E484K mutation has occurred spontaneously in only a handful of cases of the UK variant.
Instead, they were a mutation of the UK strain, also known as the Kent variant.
This particular strain has already been deemed more contagious than the original and behind the surge in cases since December.
Experts have expressed concern over the combination of the UK strain with the E484K mutation.
Last week, Public Health England said a cluster of 32 cases had also been detected in Liverpool involving the E484K mutation.
They were part of cases among staff at Liverpool Women's Hospital last month.
A cluster of an initial five cases was detected on January 10 among some staff who had attended an event outside the hospital, believed to be a funeral.
A further 60 probable cases are reported to have been identified.
However, in this case, officials said it is a mutation on the original virus, which first sparked the pandemic, and is not as transmissible as the Kent strain.
For this reason it's expected to be given a lower priority Nervtag classification of “variant under investigation”, according to reports.
Public health officials are still concerned about the cluster as it's already wider spread than those in the South West.
They have urged anyone with symptoms such as a runny nose and headache to get tested.
Residents in Liverpool, Preston and Lancashire, should order a test for a much wider range of coronavirus symptoms, officials said.
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health and wellbeing at Lancashire County Council, said: "If you live in Preston or West Lancashire and you're feeling under the weather, please get a Covid test.
"It doesn't matter if you don't have the three classic symptoms of a fever, loss of taste or smell, or a cough – even a headache could be an indication you may have this mutation.
"Understandably, some residents may be concerned but all viruses mutate over time so this should not cause any further alarm.
"Alongside our partners, please rest assured that we are monitoring the situation closely.
"It is important to stress that there is currently no evidence that this mutation alone causes more severe illness or is more transmissible.
"The best way to control the spread is for everyone to continue to abide by the lockdown rules and following the simple steps of washing your hands, using a face covering and making space from each other.
"While Covid has been here for a while now, these new variants remind us that we all need to keep doing what we can to stay safe and avoid spreading Covid to each other."
It comes as door-to-door testing was rolled out in eight postcodes after 11 cases of the South African variant were detected with no links to travel.
Anyone living in the W7, N17, CR4, WS2, ME15, EN10, GU21 or PR9 postcodes, as well as Bristol and Liverpool, has been asked to get a test.
If they have symptoms – they can book online at their nearest facility.
If they don't, they should check their local council website for more information on whether there's an asymptomatic centre.
Mobile testing units will be deployed and testing kits posted through people's doors too, to try and clamp down on every single case.
Some of the new cases hadn't travelled recently either – meaning there is now community transmission of the virus.
The mutation, which emerged from South Africa, and is named 501YV2, but there is no evidence that it causes more severe disease.
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