THE coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa and is feared more resistant to the Covid-19 vaccine has registered a worrying rise in Scotland, the Herald has learnt.

The number of identified Scottish cases of the South African variant vaccine has doubled in ten days, from three to six.

Confirmation of the rise has come while the number across the UK over the same period has also followed a similar pattern, nearly doubling from 77 cases to 147. There are now 100 confirmed and 47 probable cases, according official data.

In Scotland as of February 3, there were five confirmed cases and and one classed as 'probable'.

The numbers of UK cases of the Brazil variant have also doubled over ten days - with 18 current confirmed cases, all in England and none yet in Scotland.

It comes as early trials suggested that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid jab gives limited protection against mild and moderate disease caused by the South Africa variant.

UK ministers have been accused of being too slow to act in reasponse to the new threat after it was disclosed new coronavirus quarantine hotels will not come into force until mid-February.

Holyrood ministers are preparing to require all international travellers arriving in Scotland to quarantine, regardless of where they have come from - a tougher stance than Westminster which limits the restriction to those arriving from “red zone” countries.

It has been suggested vaccines or a booster in the autumn could be required to combat variants.

Meanwhile the Herald has learned the number of confirmed and probable cases of the more contagious UK variant has risen by 26% in a week from 34,293 on January 27, to 43,434 on February 3. The increase in Scotland, which only quotes confirmed cases, however, appears less marked, with 25 new cases with the total standing at 687 on February 3.

The preliminary findings from a small study of more than 2,000 people due to be published today which has not yet been peer-reviewed did not yet fully determine whether the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid jab protects against severe disease caused by the South African Covid variant.

READ MORE: Sturgeon: New coronavirus variant may lead to increased risk of hospitalisation

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said they had not yet been able to properly establish whether the jab would prevent severe disease and hospitalisation caused by the South Africa variant because those involved in the study had predominantly been young, healthy adults.

HeraldScotland:

But the company expressed confidence that the vaccine would offer protection against serious cases, because it created neutralising antibodies similar to those of other coronavirus vaccines.

The Oxford University team who developed the vaccine have said researchers in South Africa were still looking at how effective the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is against the strain first detected in that country.

The variant from South Africa carries the E484K mutation which studies suggest may be better at escaping the immune response, meaning that Covid-19 jabs may not be as effective at protecting against it.

Two weeks ago the health secretary in a remark during a webinar said there was evidence the South African variant "although we are not sure of this data..a reduces by about 50% the vaccine efficacy."

The South Africa variant has been found in at least 20 other countries, including the UK.

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said that a Covid-19 booster in the autumn and then annual vaccinations are very probable as countries race to administer injections in the face of new variants.

The minister warned: “The more we vaccinate, the more the virus will attempt to survive and mutate even further.”

He said the government was committed to securing “variant vaccines” to keep on top of new strains of the virus.

Prof Sarah Gilbert, the architect of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, has said researchers were already working on a new vaccine designed to combat the South African variant.

She said: “It’s not quite ready to vaccinate people with yet, but as all of the developers are using platform technologies, these are ways of making a vaccine that are very quick to adapt.

"This year we expect to show that the new version of the vaccine will generate antibodies that recognise the new variant. Then it will be very much like working on flu vaccines. It looks very much like it will be available for the autumn."

She told the BBC: "We're already working on the first part of the manufacturing process in Oxford, that will be passed on to other members of the manufacturing supply chain as we go through the spring."

On Thursday it was confirmed that travellers arriving in the UK from countries on the travel ban “red list” will have to quarantine in a Government-approved hotel from February 15.

HeraldScotland:

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was working “at pace” to roll out managed quarantine facilities in time for British nationals returning to the UK from high-risk destinations.

The decision to require travellers to self-isolate for 10 days in approved accommodation to ensure they follow the rules was originally announced following the emergence of new coronavirus variants in South Africa and Brazil.

Labour said it was “beyond comprehension” that it was taking so long to get the scheme up and running.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was working “at pace” to ensure designated quarantine hotels would be ready for British nationals returning from high-risk countries on the UK travel ban list from the middle of the month.

Officials said a commercial specification was issued on Thursday evening to hotels near air and sea ports asking for proposals on how they can support the delivery of quarantine facilities ahead of formal contracts being awarded.

It emerged the UK Government was scrambling to book 28,000 quarantine hotel rooms across the UK by 5pm on Friday with hopes to secure 660 in Scotland, with 410 in Edinburgh.

Yesterday, Ms Freeman could not say if hotel rooms have been booked for the new “managed quarantine” policy – which is due to come into force in just over a week.

She would only say that “discussions are under way” – as she added the Scottish Government was still seeking to persuade UK ministers to take a tougher stance on quarantining international arrivals.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has already said discussions are ongoing between the two governments about the final restrictions, which are due to come in from February 15.

But Ms Freeman said: Our position is that everyone who comes in internationally to the UK should be in quarantine for that set period.”

HeraldScotland:

She said that the Scottish Government was continuing to talk to UK ministers “about trying to get them to agree that we should all be much tougher”.

Asked if the Scottish Government had booked hotel rooms for those needing to quarantine, she would only say that “that work is under way”.

She said the discussions were “twofold” and were focused on trying to “secure agreement from the UK Government to” and also ensuring that Scotland is ready for quarantine policy when it comes into place.

“We will want to quarantine everyone who is coming in internationally,” the Health Secretary said.

“If they are coming to Scotland from whatever country they are coming in from, we will want them to go into quarantine for that set period.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said the Government would be “vigilant” about which countries would be subject to the forthcoming hotel quarantine rules.

Ms Freeman suggested on Friday that road border checks could be imposed between Scotland and England if UK ministers did not toughen international quarantine rules.

Prof Rowland Kao, professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh, has said that the identification of cases of the South African variant in people with no obvious travel links suggest that, at the very least, they were infected while in the UK.

As only 5% of cases are tested to determine if they are the variant, there is a high probability that further local cases are in circulation, he said, making it more difficult at the spread of the variant can be contained.

He said that surge testing, which is where all residents will be offered a PCR test via post will aim therefore to identify variant clusters and extent of spread, but is highly dependent on individuals taking up those tests, as it remains a voluntary activity.

"As there is some evidence that current vaccines may be at least somewhat less effective against this variant, slowing its spread via surge testing and maintaining travel restrictions to prevent it jumping to other areas of the UK (if it has not done so already) will be important to keep Covid-19 infections continuing downwards at its current trajectory," he said.