Speaking to the House of Commons on Monday, Hancock said the UK has detected a total of 2,323 cases of the Indian strain, which may be more transmissible than the original form of coronavirus.
Some 483 cases of the ‘B.1.617.2’ variant have been reported in the North West areas of Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, where the variant is now the dominant Covid-19 strain and cases are rising in all age groups, Hancock said.
“In Blackburn, hospitalisations are stable with eight people currently in hospital with Covid, and in Bolton 19 people are now in hospital with coronavirus – the majority of whom are eligible for a vaccine but haven't yet had a vaccine,” he said.
“This shows the new variant is not tending to penetrate into older, vaccinated groups and it underlines again the importance of getting the jab especially – but not only – amongst the vulnerable age groups,” he added.
In response to the variant's spread, the government has stepped up testing and vaccination efforts in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.
It has also announced that vaccine dose intervals will be shortened from 12 weeks to eight weeks for people aged 50 and over.
Hancock also said “early evidence suggests” B.1.617.2 is more transmissible than the UK indigenous ‘B.1.1.7’ variant, although scientists do not know to “what extent” it may spread more easily.
The health minister added that early laboratory data from Oxford University, evidence from Bolton Hospital and observational data from India have shown that vaccines are effective against the variant.