The new strain dubbed B.1.525 has been found in Bristol and the South West, with two cases in Wales, Public Health England revealed.
On top of the 38 confirmed cases, another four are “probable”.
Like strains found in South Africa and Brazil, B.1.525 carries a mutation that can make Covid jabs less effective.
It has been categorised as a “variant under investigation” following a risk assessment.
Surge testing will not be carried out to find more cases, PHE said, because it is not seen as a “variant of concern”.
A University of Edinburgh report said more than 100 cases have been identified globally in total.
But this is likely an underestimate because only a proportion of Covid swabs go through laboratory testing – used to detect cases of new variants.
The variant appears to be most prevalent in Nigeria at this stage.
The report said 24 per cent of swab samples analysed genetically in Nigeria were caused by this variant (12 of 51).
Canadian health officials first detected the variant last week and said it was related to travel to Nigeria, according to CTV News.
The report said the variant was first discovered in the UK in mid-December.
But it doesn’t mean it evolved here – the UK does at least half the world’s genetic sequencing of the virus, therefore may pick up new variants ahead of other countries.
Since December only 0.6 per cent of several thousands of cases in the UK have been blamed on this variant.
PHE said although a couple of cases were discovered in December, it did not cause an outbreak large enough to warrant an announcement until February.
It comes as:
- A leading scientist and member of Sage has said plans to ease the UK’s lockdown measures should be brought forward because vaccinations are going so well.
- Covid jabs are poised to double to a million a day to get all over-50s vaccinated by the end of April.
- Supermarket workers, teachers and police officers could be prioritised for the Covid vaccine in the next phase, the vaccines minister revealed.
- Government officials look at scrapping the “stay at home” message.
There are several new variants of Covidwhich have spread in the UK since the end of 2020.
The three of most concern emerged in Kent (B1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.2).
The latest addition, named B.1.525, has similarities to the Kent strain, but with several additional mutations, according to the University of Edinburgh.
One of these is the E484K mutation, also found in the South African and Brazilian variants, and scientists believe it could make vaccines less effective.
It causes a change on the spike protein – found on the outside of the virus – that plays an important role in helping the virus to enter cells as well as the immune system’s response to it.
Early studies have shown the E484K mutation is better able to hide from antibodies that kill the virus.
Vaccine companies have confirmed their jab works less efficiently – but still to some degree – on this mutation.
The Kent strain has been shown to be up to 70 per cent more infectious, and top scientists confirmed it was deadlier in papers last week.
The new B.1.525 has been detected in 10 countries including Denmark (35 cases), the US (10), France (five), Spain (one) and Australia (two).
It is one of the seven new variants reported in the US, leading to Dr Anthony Fauci to plead with Americans not to “let your guard down.”