Covid: Another new variant found in UK from South Africa

New variant ‘highly concerning’, health secretary says

Vincent Wood
Wednesday 23 December 2020 16:36 GMT
Covid: New variant found in UK from South Africa
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A second new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in the UK having first been discovered in South Africa.

Matt Hancock announced two cases had been observed in the UK in a press conference from Downing Street, with both patients being closely monitored.

The government is now set to implement travel restrictions on those entering the nation from South Africa, while the health secretary urged those who had arrived from the country in the last fortnight to isolate immediately for two weeks.

Mr Hancock said: "These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain which is shortly to be analysed at Porton Down."

Referring to its carriers, he added: "Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks."

He 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.

"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."

It follows the rapid spread of a variant of the virus in the south east of England, first detected by UK scientists, which led to a ramping up of coronavirus restrictions by the government as well as travel restrictions being implemented by neighbouring countries.

The UK’s variant is believed to have mutated randomly in Kent as early as September, while the South African variant is thought to be behind a surge in hospitalisations there.

Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England said there was no evidence to suggest vaccines would be ineffective against the new variant.

Commenting on its spread, she said: “The new variant in the UK which we’ve identified is very different to the variant in South Africa. It’s got 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 in great detail with academic partners.

“We’re still learning about the South African variant  and you’ve heard already the measures we’re introducing to ensure that we quarantine people who are coming in from South Africa and therefore we are pretty confident actually that the system we have in place will help control the spread.”

On the vaccine, she added: “We have no evidence at the moment that the vaccine will not work, actually what that means, in fact, is that there’s strong evidence that it will work because the vaccine produces a strong immune response and it’s broad and acts against lots of variation in the virus.

“What we are doing is laboratory studies with people who have had previous infection and who have had vaccine to look and see in the laboratory how their blood kills the virus. Those take a number of weeks as we grow the virus and do those studies. As soon as they are available, we will of course release them.”

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