A new strain of coronavirus identified in parts of England which is thought to be highly transmissible has been confirmed in a handful of other countries.
Known as VUI-202012/01, the mutation forced the UK government to impose strict new rules over the Christmas period.
While it is most prominent in the southeast and east of England – the areas now in lockdown-style tier 4 – the virus has been found in all parts of the UK, aside from Northern Ireland.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has raised concerns that it is “entirely possible” the strain of virus may already be spreading in France.
Dr Susan Hopkins, from Public Health England, told Sky News: “Similar strains have been detected in Denmark and Australia, and there are other variants that look very similar to this that have been detected in South Africa, in the Netherlands and other countries.”
As the total number of Covid cases surges, a WHO spokesperson urged European nations to “redouble their control and prevention approaches”.
A group of EU representatives are set to meet for an integrated political crisis response on Monday to evaluate the threat from the new variant and coordinate a joint response.
As a result of this new strain, many countries around the world have banned entry for flights from the UK, including France, Finland, Italy, and Turkey.
This new virus is not thought to be more deadly, nor is it currently considered to be resistant to the vaccine. However, current data shows it is 70 per cent more transmissible, which it is thought is linked to the recent increase in positive covid rates across the UK.
Boris Johnson said the new strain could raise the R number – the rate of infection – by 0.4.
The rate of transmission is still yet to be confirmed with absolute certainty. Dr Erik Volz, from Imperial College London, said: "It is really too early to tell … but from what we see so far it is growing very quickly, it is growing faster than [a previous variant] ever grew, but it is important to keep an eye on this."
The UK reported the highest ever number of Covid cases – 35,928 – on Sunday, representing a 51.2 per cent increase from the rate a week earlier.
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