The coronavirus variant B.1.617.2 first identified in India has been designated as a “variant of concern” by Public Health England (PHE) because it is thought to be at least as transmissible as the variant detected in Kent last year, known as B117, which is now dominant in the UK.
PHE has said there is currently “insufficient evidence” to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or make the vaccines available any less effective.
Professor Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said work is under way to find out more about the strain as he warned a variant worse than Kent “would set us back”.
He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Wednesday that 20 to 30 cases of the variant have been detected in Scotland, and they are in a number of locations.
Prof Leitch said: “They are in a few places, some of that is travel, most of it has been connected with inward travel and then of course spread within a group from that initial seeding, more troubles in the north of England, so they’ve got more and it’s spreading faster.
“We’re a little bit unsure about the nature of this individual variant, it’s at least as transmissible as the Kent variant, we hope it’s not worse, but we’re having to do lots of science to find out.
“That’s one of the big concerns, we’ve talked about that for months, a variant worse than Kent would set us back.”
Prof Leitch urged people to be careful as coronavirus restrictions in Scotland ease further next week as he warned “we’re not completely out of the woods”.
People in Scotland will be able to hug loved ones again from Monday as all of the mainland, with the “highly probable exception” of Moray, will move from Level 3 to Level 2 of coronavirus restrictions on May 17, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday.
Moray is expected to remain in Level 3 following a surge in cases and an increase in hospital admissions.
Across the rest of the mainland, six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue and eight people from eight households can meet outdoors.
Up to six people from three households will be able to socialise indoors in a private home or garden without physical distancing, meaning people can hug loved ones again.
Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants, and cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades can reopen.
Prof Leitch said: “People shouldn’t think this is a free for all, all bets are off, we’re all back to normal, they should absolutely take advantage of managing to see family, of going to the businesses that have been closed for so long, but do it cautiously.”
He also urged people to hug safely and not just randomly if they embrace loved ones.
Reporting by PA