Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced two cases have been detected of another new strain of the coronavirus in the UK. The new mutation was first recorded in South Africa earlier in the month. Mr Hancock said: “Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.”
The Conservative frontbencher added: “We are incredibly grateful to the South African government for the rigour of their science and the openness and the transparency with which they have rightly acted as we did when we discovered a new variant here.”
Mr Hancock continued: “This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK.”
He said both cases and close contacts have already been quarantined as he announced immediate restrictions will be placed on travel from South Africa
The Government has been advising those who have been in contact with anyone who visited South Africa in the last fortnight that they must quarantine.
He added: “These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain which is shortly to be analysed at Porton Down.”
South Africa has been battling a new variant of the virus for the past few weeks now, with health officials struggling to contain a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
Prof Salim Abdool Karim, from the South African Government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) said: “It is still very early but at this stage, the preliminary data suggests the virus that is now dominating in the second wave is spreading faster than the first wave.”
The Committee has warned locals they may see “many more cases” in this new surge of infections.
The fast transmissibility of the mutation spurred the Government into issuing a series of new restrictions, including a near-complete lockdown for London and Kent.
New restrictions are also due to come into effect from Boxing Day across larger areas of the UK.
Mr Hancock said: “From 00.01 on Boxing Day Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, those parts of Essex not yet in Tier 4, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire including Portsmouth and Southampton but with the exception of the New Forest will all be escalated to Tier 4.
Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset including the North Somerset council area, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire as well as Chesire and Warrington will all be escalated to Tier 3.
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“And I’m afraid that Cornwall and Herefordshire have seen sharply rising rates and need to be escalated to Tier 2.”
The Health Secretary said the addition of a fourth tier in the Government’s response to the pandemic had been dictated by the unsuitability of the system to combat the new variant of the virus.
He added: “We know that the three-tiered system worked to control the old variant and is working now in large parts of the country especially in northern England.
“But we also know that Tier 3 is not enough to control the new variant. This is not our hypothesis, it is a fact and we have seen it on the ground.”