A new variant of coronavirus has been found in the UK and it may be associated with a faster spread of infection.
After the whole of London and other parts of southern England were placed into Tier 3 – the country’s highest level of Covid restrictions – Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs that the rapid increase in infection rates in those areas ‘may be associated’ with the new variant.
‘Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants,’ he said.
‘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,’ he added.
‘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.’
He also said there was ‘nothing to suggest’ the variant caused a worse version of Covid-19 or would be resistant to vaccines.
Adding some perspective and calling for calm, Prof Alan McNally, an expert at the University of Birmingham, told the BBC: ‘Let’s not be hysterical. It doesn’t mean it’s more transmissible or more infectious or dangerous. It is something to keep an eye on.’
‘Huge efforts are ongoing at characterising the variant and understanding its emergence. It is important to keep a calm and rational perspective on the strain as this is normal virus evolution and we expect new variants to come and go and emerge over time.’
Hancock said that the World Health Organization had been made aware of the new variant.