TWO Brits have been diagnosed with another new and "highly concerning coronavirus mutation from South Africa", it emerged today.
Matt Hancock said that any Brits who had been to South Africa in the last two weeks should quarantine immediately.
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Mr Hancock said that close contacts of any one who has been to South Africa in the last fortnight should also quarantine.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference this afternoon Mr Hancock said the new strain was more transmissible.
Addressing the nation he said: "Of course the fight against the virus is a global effort and we are constantly vigilant in looking around the world and as part of our surveillance… we have detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK.
"Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa in the last few weeks."
He said The Chief Scientific Advisor and the Chief Medical Officer met their South African counterparts to discuss the new strain.
"This new variant is highly concerning as it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant which is in the UK.
"We are quarantining cases and close contacts of cases in the UK.
"Second, we're placing immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa.
"And thirdly and most importantly, anyone from the UK who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight and anyone who is a close contact of anyone who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight must quarantine immediately."
Mr Hancock said the government is changing the law to make this immediately enforceable.
During today's press conference he also highlighted that more areas in the UK would move into Tier 4 restriction as of Boxing Day.
Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire will be put into even tighter restrictions as a result of the mutant Covid strain in the UK – which is different from the South African strain.
Dr Susan Hopkins 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 are more transmissible. We have more evidence on the transmission for the UK variant because we've been studying that with great detail with academic partners.
"We're still learning about the South African variant and you've heard already the measures that we're introducing to ensure that we quarantine people who are coming in from South Africa.
"Therefore, we are pretty confident actually that this system we have in place will help control the spread."
Mr Hancock thanked the South African authorities for their prompt response on informing Britain on the new strain.
The new variant of the virus — known as 501.V2 — is now making up about 80 to 90 per cent of new cases in Africa’s most industrialised nation.
The variant is different from the British strain that is spreading rapidly, but is also believed to be highly infectious.
“It is still very early but at this stage, the preliminary data suggests the virus that is now dominating in the second wave is spreading faster than the first wave,” Professor Salim Abdool Karim, chairman of the government's Ministerial Advisory Committee, said in a briefing.
South Africa may see “many more cases” in the new wave than it experienced in the first surge of the disease, said Professor Karim.
“I will just speculate the following: the…higher viral load in these swabs may translate into a higher efficiency of transmission,” he added.
The new South African variant has been traced to Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, which was the first major urban area to be hit by the country’s second wave.
South Africa has recorded about 930,000 cases of the virus since the pandemic began and almost 25,000 deaths.
The country currently has more than 8,500 people hospitalised with Covid-19, surpassing the previous high of 8,300 recorded in August.
It comes after scientists revealed that another strain of the virus had been detected in England in September and had spread to 57 places.
Mr Hancock said the new variant makes "everything harder" as it spreads so much faster than the first.
He also revealed that more areas would be plunged into Tier 4 from Boxing Day.
Mr Hancock said: "We all know that 2020 has been a hard year and it's ending in this festive period that is going to be very different.
"After all the efforts that we have gone to to control this virus… we've discovered a new more contagious virus, a variant that is spreading at a dangerous rate."
He said cases have risen by 57 per cent in the last week, with almost as many people in hospital with Covid now as in the peak.
Yesterday saw the biggest ever UK daily rise with 36,804 new positive tests and 691 deaths.
The daily figures showed Covid cases nearly doubled since the 18,450 infections recorded the same time last week.
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