Public Health England is stepping up its surveillance of the SARS-CoV-2 strain recently uncovered in South Africa, according to the Guardian.
Both the UK and South Africa announced last month that they had identified new strains of SARS-CoV-2 that appeared to spread more easily. The two strains, dubbed B117 and B1351, respectively, both harbor alterations affecting spike protein genes. One alteration that both strains have has led to concerns about vaccine effectiveness, but an initial study from the University of Texas Medical Branch and Pfizer and BioNTech indicates the companies' vaccine is effective against that change.
PHE already tracks the UK B117 strain, the Guardian notes. The National Health Service typically tests viral samples for three genes, but one of the B117 mutations means that only two of those three genes are detected, meaning it has been able to track the strain based on that pattern of results. But to track the South African B1351 strain, the Guardian says PHE is working with the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium to sequence viral samples from positive test swabs.
There have been 29 known cases of this variant in the UK, according to the Guardian.