A new variant of coronavirus has been detected in south-east England, raising concerns about the five day “Christmas bubble” exemption and the efficacy of the vaccine. Speaking to ITV’s Lorraine earlier, Dr Amir Khan provided some reassurance about the new strain. He noted that viruses routinely mutate and it is not an immediate cause for concern.
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To mitigate the risk, we should comply with the general advice issued by health bodies.
“We should all remain vigilant, wash our hands and wear a mask,” he advised.
When asked about the implications for the UK’s five day reprieve from the restrictions, whereby up to three households can stay together and form a “Christmas bubble” from 23 to 27 December, Dr Khan gave a somewhat nuanced response.
He appreciated the measure will be welcomed by broad swathes of the general public so is not advocating for the policy to be rescinded.
As of 13 December, 1,108 cases with this variant have been identified, predominantly in the South and East of England.
PHE is working with partners to investigate and plans to share its findings over the next two weeks.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that the strain has any impact on disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy.
High numbers of cases of the variant virus have been observed in some areas where there is also a high incidence of COVID-19.
It is not yet known whether the variant is responsible for these increased numbers of cases. PHE will monitor the impact of this in the coming days and weeks.
The other reported mutation of the virus – a H69/V70 deletion – was identified infected minks.
Commenting on the mutation, Prof Alan McNally, from the University of Birmingham, said to the BBC: “We know there’s a variant, we know nothing about what that means biologically.
“It is far too early to make any inference on how important this may or may not be.”
Coronavirus – what are the main symptoms?
According to the NHS, the main symptoms of coronavirus are:
- A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
- A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.
“Most people with coronavirus have at least one of these symptoms,” adds the NHS.
If you have any of the main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), get a test as soon as possible. Stay at home until you get the result.
Anyone in your support bubble should also stay at home if you have been in close contact with them since your symptoms started or during the 48 hours before they started.