Covid: 147 confirmed cases of South African variant found in UK so far but data 'may be behind'

Credit: PA

There are over 140 confirmed cases of the South African Covid variant in the UK - but there are fears it could be higher, a minister has said.

Health minister Edward Argar said there have been 147 confirmed cases of the South African coronavirus variant but acknowledged his figures may be “a day or so out”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “So it’s still very much not the dominant strain here, the dominant strain here is very much the historic one, the one we’ve been dealing with since last year, and to a large degree the so-called Kent variant.”

Mr Argar told BBC Breakfast that while it was "a very small number" it was "still something we quite rightly have got to keep a very close eye on."

Members of the public fill out paperwork before being given the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

There has been rapid mass testing in some postcodes across England in a bid to control the variant after several cases were identified in these areas.

Around 80,000 residents in parts of Surrey, London, Kent, Walsall, Southport and Hertfordshire were offered a PCR Covid test – which can provide swift results on the same day – in a bid to curb the variant’s spread.

This was expanded on Saturday to include four other areas; Worcestershire WR3, Sefton (PR9), Merseyside and parts o Bristol and South Gloucestershire.

On Sunday, a study found the the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid jab to be less effective against the South African variant.

And a US study showed the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is effective against the coronavirus variant that emerged from South Africa.

Examining just 20 vaccine recipients, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that the vaccine neutralises the virus with the N501Y and E484K mutation.

But the health minister sought to reassure people, saying there is “no evidence” that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is not effective at preventing severe illness from coronavirus and suggested people would need to have annual coronavirus booster jabs to protect against new strains that emerge.

Assistant Technical Officer Lukasz Najdrowski unpacks doses of the Oxford vaccine as they arrive at the Princess Royal Hospital. Credit: PA

Mr Argar told Sky News: “What we would all expect is every year we have our flu booster jabs, or our flu jabs, it would not be unreasonable to suggest something similar here.”

The minister said the virus “will always try to outwit us”, adding: “We’ve just got to make sure we get ahead of the game.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson said he was “very confident” in the coronavirus vaccines but did not rule out the strain could delay the relaxation of lockdown restriction.

In the wake of the study, AstraZeneca told ITV News: "We do believe our vaccine could protect against severe disease, as neutralising antibody activity is equivalent to that of other Covid-19 vaccines that have demonstrated activity against more severe disease, particularly when the dosing interval is optimised to 8-12 weeks. 

"Oxford University and AstraZeneca have started adapting the vaccine against this variant and will advance rapidly through clinical development so that it is ready for Autumn delivery should it be needed."

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