The emergence of the Indian Covid-19 variant in Essex is not “cause for huge concern”, the county council’s social care and health cabinet member has said.

However, Cllr John Spence did warn the variant required residents to exercise caution to help ensure lockdown restrictions can continue to be eased.

The variant, known as B1617.2, has been designated a “variant of concern” because it is thought to be as much as “50 per cent more transmissible” than the Kent strain, according to the Scientific Advisory Group for emergencies (Sage).

This variant is reportedly present in 83 local authorities across the UK and a “small number of cases” of the variant have been identified in Chelmsford.

At present, the variant has been identified in cases within 7 households; the country council says the majority of these cases have no obvious link to foreign travel and it is therefore likely the variant is present in the community.

Director of Public Health at Essex County Council, Dr Mike Gogarty said: “Though the light is at the end of the tunnel with the continued roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine, the emergence of this new variant proves we can’t let down our guard. We need anyone not showing Covid-19 symptoms, particularly those in Chelmsford, to play their part and take a test.

“I would ask that all residents across the county continue to test regularly. Regular self-testing, twice a week, with lateral flow tests can reduce the spread of infection and stop people unknowingly passing on the virus to others.”