SCIENTISTS have identified 16 cases of a new Covid variant in the UK.

The cases have been identified by Public Health England after being first detected on February 15 through genomic horizon scanning.

All individuals who tested positive and their contacts have been traced and advised to isolate, and the variant was designated a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) on February 24, Public Health England said today.

The variant is understood to have originated in the UK.

It contains the E484K mutation, which is also found in two existing VUIs present in the UK, but does not feature the N501Y mutation, present in all variants of concern (VOCs).

The addition of this variant as a VUI means there are now a total of four VUIs and four VOCs currently being tracked in the UK.

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On Thursday the Government also announced surge testing will take place in two more areas where the South African variant of coronavirus has been found.

A Department of Health and Social Care statement said the testing and genomic sequencing was being targeted in the North Wembley area of Brent, north London, and the TS19 postcode area in Stockton-on-Tees, in County Durham.

The statement said: “The increased testing is being introduced in addition to existing extensive testing and, in combination with the public following current lockdown rules and Hands Face Space advice, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus. Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help increase our understanding of Covid-19 variants and their spread within these areas.

“Enhanced contact tracing will be used for individuals testing positive with a variant of concern. This is where contact tracers look back over an extended period in order to determine the route of transmission.

“People living within the targeted areas are strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test when offered, whether they are showing symptoms or not.”

Almost 22 million coronavirus vaccines have now been distributed in the UK.