Matt Hancock Warns A “New Variant” Of Covid-19 Has Been Identified And Is Rising Rapidly
Matt Hancock revealed in the Commons a new strain of Covid-19 has been identified in the UK (Parliamentlive.TV)
Matt Hancock has said that a “new variant” of Covid-19 has been identified in England and could be the reason for rapidly rising infection rates in the South East.
The health secretary made the announcement in the House of Commons as he confirmed London and large parts of Essex and Hertfordshire would be placed into tier 3 coronavirus restrictions from Wednesday.
"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," Mr Hancock told MPs.
He warned that the numbers of the new variant of coronavirus "are increasing rapidly”, after he moved to place the capital and some surrounding areas into the toughest measures ahead of the planned review of the tier system later this week.
Hancock 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 from the despatch box 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,” Mr 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."
He added: "I need to tell the House that over the last week, we've seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
"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.”
The Cabinet minister revealed that as well as all 32 boroughs in the capital and the City of London the south and west of Essex will also be moved into tier 3 from tomorrow night.
This includes Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree, Chelmsford, Thurrock and Southend-On-Sea.
And the tougher rules will also be placed on Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority in Hertfordshire.
"This means that people can only see friends and family they don't live with or are in a support bubble with in outdoor public places and of course in line with the rule of six,” Mr Hancock said.
"Hospitality settings must close except takeaway and delivery and people should avoid travelling outside their area and reduce the number of journeys they make wherever possible."