The Indian variant of Covid-19 that is causing concern in the UK has been detected on Merseyside.

The Indian variant, which has been classified by Public Health England as a ‘variant of concern’, has been linked with coronavirus cases in the Sefton area.

Sefton has seen a surge in cases of Covid-19 in recent days - with many cases focused in the Formby area.

The surge has seen a number of schools send pupils home as well as a leisure centre and pub in the area forced to temporarily close.

Council leader Ian Maher has today spoken about the situation in the area and sought to calm fears.

He said: "We understand that while it has been detected locally, this variant does not seem to affect people more seriously or inhibit the effectiveness of the vaccines currently being rolled out across the UK.

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“Also, it doesn’t appear to be more infectious than the Kent variant, which is now the dominant strain in Britain.

“Sefton Council will be working closely with Public Health England and other partners to provide all the local knowledge and expertise it can to support any work that is required to identify and contain the variant.

“Vaccination, testing and all of us following the rules on distancing, face-covering and handwashing are all still key to preventing the spread of COVID.

He added: “It is vital that people go along to get their first and second vaccination jabs when they are offered them. You can now get the COVID-19 vaccine if you're aged 40 or over or if your 40th birthday is between now and July 1. You can book your appointment online or by phone.

“And, whether vaccinated or not, it’s still important that those of us going to work or out and about regularly continue to take the rapid tests, which are free and widely available across the Borough, twice a week.”

With some pupil groups having been sent home from Sefton schools this week, Cllr Maher also stressed the importance of pupils and staff in secondary schools wearing face covering in schools.

He said: “As well as in secondary schools, the rest of us need to remember the need to wear face coverings when we go into shops and other locations and use public transport.

“We all need to be taking care in inside spaces and sticking closely to the 2m distancing to protect ourselves and those around us including our friends and family, who may be vulnerable to the serious effects of COVID-19.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Indian variant is the number one covid risk to the UK at present.

He said he is 'worried' about the variant amid reports that it is becoming more prominent in the UK and can spread faster than the Kent variant.

Scientists say that in England, in the two weeks to May 1, the proportion of Indian variant cases went from 1% to 11% of Covid-19 infections.

But while he said he is 'worried' about the spread of the variant in the UK, Mr Hancock said the country is in a much better position to tackle it because of the successful vaccination programme.

Sefton has two SMART test sites for people without symptoms, at Bootle Leisure Centre and at Splash World in Southport which are open 8am to 8pm seven days a week.

Rapid home test kits can be collected from Bootle Town Hall and Splash World in Southport from 8am-8pm seven days a week. No appointments are needed.