The variant is considered to have concerning epidemiological, immunological or pathogenic properties, and has been designated a variant under investigation (VUI) by PHE.
This means the variant has been raised for formal investigation. The agency said that “all appropriate public health interventions will be undertaken, including enhanced contact tracing”.
“PHE and international partners continue to monitor the situation closely,” it added.
This new variant of coronavirus was first identified in March and was described by the Indian government as a “double mutant”, suggesting that it had formed as a hybrid of two other strains.
The presence of two key mutations, E484Q and L452R, means the new Indian variant may be more infectious and harder for the immune system to target.
The latest designation brings the total number of variants detected in the UK to 56. The dominant strain continues to be the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in Kent.
Officials and scientists are also concerned about a variant that was first identified in South Africa, of which there have been 600 confirmed cases found in the UK.
A significant cluster of cases of the South African variant were found in the London boroughs of Wandsworth, Lambeth, Barnet and Southwark, prompting a large-scale surge testing operation to test thousands of people living and working in these areas.
Earlier this week, a government adviser said his fellow scientists were “very concerned” about the cluster of infections in London and warned that the relaxation of lockdown rules may have to be put “into reverse” if new variants continue to spread.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), told BBC Newsnight: “I think we’re all just hoping that the staged reduction in lockdown is going to be ok. It is being done reasonably cautiously but I think this is not good news.
“If we get rapid spread of the South African or other more resistant variants, it may well be that we are going to have to put the reductions of lockdown into reverse.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies