The number of cases in England of a Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa are a “big underestimate” and the country is seeing the "tip of the iceberg of community transmission," government advisor Andrew Hayward told British broadcaster Sky News on Tuesday.
105 cases of the variant have been identified in England to date and "a small number of cases" cannot be traced back to international travel, the UK Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement on Monday.
The South African variant is, "identified through genetic sequencing and we sequence between 5% and 10% of all cases, so you can immediately tell from that that we have a big under-estimate of the number of cases within this country," said Hayward, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London.
He said that the 11 cases of the variant thought to be due local transmission could be multiplied, "by quite a high level. So we would expect we're seeing, if you'd like, the tip of the iceberg of community transmission," he said.
A "surge testing" scheme is underway to monitor and suppress the spread of the variant of the coronavirus in some parts of London, the West Midlands, and the South East, North West and East of England.
Hayward said that increased testing could help to slow the spread down.