BASINGSTOKE is not considered to be a ‘hotspot’ for the ‘double mutant’ India covid variant, but concern about it has risen among public health officials.

The B.1.167 variant, which originated in India, was first detected in the UK in February.

Public Health England (PHE) last week identified two further strains of the B.1.167 ‘double mutant’ variant - named B.1.167. 2 and B.1.167. 3.

The latest data (up to May 5) shows that 261 cases of the India variant had been identified in the UK, up by 66 from the previous week.

An additional 520 cases of the second strain (a masive 318 more than the previous week) and nine of the third (up by four) were also reported.

Until today, the India variant has been listed as a “variant under investigation” by PHE, rather than a “variant of concern” - such as the previous Kent, Brazil and South Africa strains.

However, a report from the BBC this morning (May 7) cited “leaked data” which indicates public health experts are now recommending the second strain (B.1.167. 2) should be escalated, as it appears to spread more quickly.

Furthermore, this afternoon, PHE confirmed it had done so. In a statement, it said: "Following a rise in cases in the UK and evidence of community transmission, PHE has reclassified VUI-21APR-02 (B.1.617.2, classified as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) on 28 April) as a Variant of Concern (VOC), now known as VOC-21APR-02.

"This is based on evidence which suggests this variant, first detected in India, is at least as transmissible as B.1.1.7 (the Kent variant). The other characteristics of this variant are still being investigated."

It added: "PHE health protection teams are working with local authorities, Directors of Public Health (DsPH) and NHS Test and Trace to detect cases and limit onward spread."

A viral video on the subject from Dr John Campbell on Youtube, listed Basingstoke as a “hotspot” for the variant in the UK.

Other areas mentioned were London (Harrow and Hounslow), Leicester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Bradford.

“To be fair, the numbers are very low, but there are certain hotspot areas,” said Dr Campbell.

He added: “I have been concerned about this variant all the way through. I remain concerned about this variant and I’m afraid that this increase in numbers only increases my concern.

“And of course new variants is one of the things that can influence the road map towards easing of restrictions and of course easing of travel and everything else that we are all so desperate for.”

However, a PHE source told the Gazette that while data at a local level is not available, nothing in his work suggests Basingstoke is a hotspot for the India variant

PHE has previously said there is no evidence that the three India variants cause more severe disease or make the current vaccines any less effective.

It has been monitoring the variants since March and has increased lab testing “to better understand the impact of the mutations on the behaviour of the virus”.

On April 20, Boris Johnson said that India being placed on the travel red list was on a “purely precautionary basis” amid the variant first discovered there, which is under investigation by UK experts.

“What we’re seeing in India is a result of a variant under investigation, it hasn’t yet been deemed a variant of concern – I think that was why there has been the delay,” the Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference.

The B.1.167 variant, widely referred to as the ‘double mutant’ variant, was first found in India in October 2020, and India health officials have reportedly suggested it could be linked to the current Covid “crisis” in the country, with a third wave predicted there.

The Gazette has contacted Hampshire County Council for comment on the local picture.