Matt Hancock outlines details of new variant from South Africa
Meanwhile advisory group Independent SAGE has outlined four key steps the Government must take immediately to get control of the situation. Matt Hancock confirmed the new strain, thought to have emerged in South Africa – of which two cases have been identified so far in the UK – at a press briefing yesterday during which he described the news as “highly concerning”.
The Government has been warned about the numbers going wrong for weeks and weeks
The development further complicates an already difficult situation in the UK, with cases spiking as a result of another new strain which had been discovered previously, which is believed to have originated in Kent, and which is likewise significantly more infectious than the original virus.
Professor Gabriel Scally, a Northern Irish public health physician and a former regional director of public health (RDPH) for the south-west of England, told Express.co.uk the Government had been left with little choice but to roll out tougher restrictions.
He told Express.co.uk: “They needed to do something anyway and concerns about a new variant and its infectivity probably runs alongside that rather than causing the changes, because we were not doing well.
“The Government has been warned about the numbers going wrong for weeks and weeks.
Matt Hancock speaks at yesterday’s coronavirus briefing
Dr Gabriel Scally suggested the Tier 4 updates were inevitable
“The fact is that Tier 3 was not really working in most of the Tier 3 areas, so it was almost inevitable.
“One of the reasons that these variants, or any variant, is gaining a toehold in the UK is that we have got so much of the virus.
“When you have got 39,000 cases a day, it is just incredible.
“There is plenty of opportunity for any virus to spread, clearly.”
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Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, speaking yesterday
Addressing the “rapidly worsening” situation in the UK, especially in England and Wales, an Independent SAGE spokesman said: “Evidence is now strong that the new variant of COVID-19 (B117) is significantly more infectious than previous strains. This is making a bad situation worse.
“Cases in all tiers are rising, even where the variant is still rare. As Matt Hancock announced on 23 December, Tiers 1-3 are not able to contain the spread of the new variant.
“Dr Jenny Harries confirmed that the new variant is also present across the UK and its dominance is spreading outwards rapidly from the South East across England.”
Modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated that the first new variant would account for 90 percent of new cases by mid-January, the spokesman explained.
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Tier 4 system explained
He added: “Christmas Day mixing of households indoors for prolonged periods of time, as allowed in tiers 1 to 3 in England and across the devolved nations, sets the scene for thousands of super-spreading events.
“In the context of the new strain, this is incredibly dangerous.
“The new variant requires a complete rethink of all mitigation strategies.”
Chris Whitty says new COVID-19 strain can spread ‘more quickly’
Independent SAGE is calling on the Government to:
- Rescind a relaxation of the rules and ban household mixing on Christmas Day (apart from exemptions and pre-existing bubbles)
- Place all regions of England in Tier 4 to suppress spread of the virus as far as possible while scientists continue to learn more about it. The devolved nations should bring forward their own national lockdowns from Boxing Day to 24th December. Tier 4 should include enhanced travel restrictions.
- Put in place an emergency plan to enable safe education in January and February.
- Focus all efforts on mass roll-out of vaccination.
Hospitals where the coronavirus vaccine will be administered
Speaking separately, Professor Amesh Adalja, Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Express.co.uk: “It’s important to remember that all viruses mutate and we are going to find new variance of the novel coronavirus when we look systematically the way they are doing in certain countries.
“It is important to remember though, that most mutations are not going to have any significance. It appears a South African variant has some mutations that are associated with the possibility of easier spread and it is becoming more prevalent there.
“This – and all variants – spread from person to person in the same way (primary respiratory droplets) so the common sense precautions of wearing a face covering, washing your hands, doing things outdoors, and avoiding crowded places will be effective.
The coronavirus is mutating constantly
“There is no evidence that these variants diminish the effectiveness of vaccines as it is difficult for viruses to evade vaccines as vaccines prompt the development of multiple antibodies and T-cells making vaccine evasion very difficult.”
Transport minister Grant Shapps yesterday said he had ordered flights and arrivals from South Africa to be halted.
Mr Shapps said: “I’ve taken the decision to temporarily stop flights and arrivals entering England from South Africa from 9am tomorrow following an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus.”