A NEW variant of coronavirus, discovered in the south of England, may be to blame for the faster spread of Covid in that region, the UK Health Secretary has told MPs.
Speaking in the Commons this afternoon, Matt Hancock said that initial analysis showed this new variant was growing faster than previously identified ones and that the World Health Organisation had been informed of the discovery.
He also said that at least 60 English local authorities have recorded Covid infections caused by the new variant.
However, Hancock stressed that there was “nothing to suggest” the new variant caused a more serious version of the disease.
He also said that the latest clinical advice gave no indication that vaccines would no longer work.
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The Tory minister said: “We have identified a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in the south-east of England.
“We’ve currently identified over 1000 cases with this variant predominantly in the south of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas.
“We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.”
As a result of the “very sharp, exponential rises” in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex, and Hartfordshire, mean that these regions and the UK capital will be put into England’s highest Covid tier, ahead of the planned review date.
Hancock said it was not clear if these rises were a result of the new variant, but that action would have to be taken regardless of the cause.
The new restrictions will come into force at midnight on Wednesday morning, Hancock said, adding: “When the virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too.”
Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said the continued spread of the virus was not a surprise, given that Hancock had been warned that tier two restrictions would not be enough.
Responding to the news, Professor Devi Sridhar tweeted: “Points again to importance of border measures (screening, testing, enforced quarantine) to prevent continual re-importation of new strains. When will UK learn this core lesson?”