A new variant of the coronavirus first identified in California will be monitored closely, health officials said last night, after early research suggested it may be more contagious than strains seen during the early months of the pandemic.

The “California variant” contains a mutation that may help the virus to become more transmissible, research has suggested.

Laboratory work has also suggested that the same mutation, known as L452R, could make some antibodies less effective. Professor Simon Clarke, of the University of Reading, said this “double-whammy effect” was potentially concerning but that more data was needed.

“I think all variants that have potentially increased transmissibility and/or resistance to neutralising antibodies that are generated by the current cohort vaccines should be variants under investigation,” he said.

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