British scientists have identified and are investigating a new variant of the COVID-19 virus in the United Kingdom. According to BBC, so far 16 cases of the new coronavirus variant have been detected in the country, the first of which was identified on February 15. The new strain of the COVID-19 virus is being referred to as VUI-202102/04, where VUI stands for 'virus under investigation'. The new variant was reportedly designated VUI on February 24, about ten days after it was first found.
Public Health England (PHE) on Thursday said that all individuals who have tested positive for the new variant have been isolated, including those who came in contact with them. "The addition of this variant as a VUI means there are now a total of 4 VUIs and 4 VOCs (variants of concern) currently being tracked in the UK," PHE said in a press release on March 4. As of Wednesday, there were 59 cases of South African variant and 26 cases of Brazil variant in the United Kingdom.
Last year, the United Kingdom had to reimpose a harsh lockdown to prevent the spread of a new, more deadly variant of the COVID-19 virus. Scientists dubbed the new variant as highly dangerous because of its ability to spread quickly. Experts believe the variant contributed to more cases in the second wave because of the higher viral load.
Earlier last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a four-step roadmap to ease restrictions across the United Kingdom and allow the country to slowly return back to normal. Prime Minister Johnson allowed schools and colleges across England to reopen from March 8 onwards. The government will allow the reopening of non-essential retail, including indoor leisure facilities such as gyms in the second phase from April 12 onwards.