New Covid variant found in UK under investigation

Public Health England said variant was first spotted in the country on Wednesday

A new variant of Covid-19 has been detected in the UK and is under investigation, Public Health England (PHE) said on Friday.

So far, there have been 16 cases linked to the Kappa B.1.621 mutation, with the majority of cases linked to international travel. There is no evidence of community transmission in the UK, PHE said.

The variant was first detected in Colombia in January 2021, said the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which has listed it as a variant of interest.

PHE said the variant was first spotted in the country on Wednesday.

The announcement was made as the top adviser to the French government said on Friday that he feared a new mutation could be in play by winter.

Professor Jean-Francois Delfraissy said a return to normality may not occur until 2023.

France is suffering a fourth wave of the disease, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, and the country rushes through a health pass law to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“We will probably have another variant arrive during the winter,” said Prof Delfraissy, head of the French government's scientific council.

“The big challenge for the next couple of years will be how we are going to coexist, with two worlds: countries that are vaccinated and those that are not,” he added.

Prof Delfraissy said that he could not predict the consequences of his feared winter mutation, or whether it would be more dangerous, adding that Covid-19 had “relatively limited” capacities to mutate.

He urged French people to return to social distancing and mask-wearing, and said a “return to normal” would probably be in 2022 but it could be delayed into 2023.

The government's strategy to contain the current wave of cases revolves around the introduction of a health pass requiring people to show proof of vaccination or a negative test when entering public venues.

Since Wednesday, cinemas, museums, swimming pools and sports venues have been required to ask patrons for their health credentials, leading to criticism from some that it restricts the freedoms of the non-vaccinated.

The lower house of parliament approved a draft law early Friday morning that will extend the system to cafes and restaurants from next month, and make vaccinations mandatory for health and social care workers from September.

The legislation will now be examined during an emergency session by the Senate, with the government hoping for approval by the end of the weekend.

Updated: July 23rd 2021, 7:12 PM