‘New variant’ of COVID-19 identified in south of England
A “new variant” of COVID-19 has been identified in the south of England and could be the reason for rapidly rising infection rates in the South East, England’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said.
He warned that the numbers of the new variant of coronavirus “are increasing rapidly”, after he moved London and some surrounding areas into the toughest level of restrictions ahead of a planned review of the English tier system later this week.
“Over the last few days, thanks to our world-class genomic capability in the UK, we have identified a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in the south of England,” Hancock told MPs.
He added: “Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.
“We've currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the south of England, although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas.
“And numbers are increasing rapidly.”
But he sought to reassure MPs that the new strain was no more deadly than others, and it is expected the existing vaccines will create protection against it.
“I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease,” Hancock said.
“And the latest clinical advice is that it's highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine, but it shows we've got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said this was “clearly a potentially concerning development”.
She tweeted: “Our CMO @DrGregorSmith has given me an initial briefing this afternoon and @scotgov will be monitoring closely.
“We will also consider whether any additional precautions are required meantime”.