UK confirms second new strain of coronavirus
“Thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we’ve detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK,” Hancock said at a news conference in the capital, London, on Wednesday.
Hancock said both cases were contacts of people who had traveled from South Africa over the last few weeks, adding that those with the new variant and their contacts were quarantining.
He said immediate restrictions were being imposed on travel from South Africa.
“This new variant is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant has been discovered in the UK,” Hancock said.
He said that from December 26, large regions across southern England would be placed under the strictest Tier 4 restrictions, similar to those of a lockdown. The measures are already in place in London and neighboring areas.
Later in the day, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he had decided to temporarily stop flights and arrivals entering England from South Africa from 9 am on Thursday, following the detection of the new strain of the coronavirus.
British and Irish nationals, visa holders, and permanent residents will be able to enter the country but will have to self-isolate for 10 days afterwards along with their household.
Last week, South Africa announced the discovery of a new genetic mutation of the disease. Countries around the globe then began closing their borders to South Africa.
The latest revelation comes as Britain is already battling to curb the spread of a mutated strain of the virus, which is believed to have leaked from a UK vaccine research laboratory.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his scientific advisers said on Saturday that the new variant of the coronavirus, which could be up to 70% more transmissible, was spreading rapidly in Britain, although it was not thought to be more deadly or to cause a more serious illness.
Authorities have since brought in tight social mixing restrictions for London, southeast England, and Wales while plans to ease curbs over Christmas across the country have been dramatically scaled back or scrapped altogether.
Many countries have also closed their borders to Britain due to concerns over the mutated strain of the coronavirus.
Despite the tight restrictions, Britain reported a record number of new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday.
Official figures showed there had been 36,804 new cases and a further 691 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, both up markedly from a day before.
The number of new cases was the highest figure reported since the beginning of the outbreak in the UK.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the new variant has so far been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, and Australia.
Separately on Wednesday, Dr. Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said the new variant recently discovered in the UK and the one found in South Africa were “very different” and were “different mutations.”
“Both of them look like they’re more transmissible. We have more evidence on the transmission for the UK variant because we’ve been studying that with great detail with academic partners,” she said.
“We’re still learning about the South African variant. We are pretty confident that the system we have in place will help control the spread.”
She said vaccines that have already been developed should be effective, given the fact that they produce a strong immune response and act against lots of variations of the virus.