By Rachael Grealish
A ‘new variant’ of coronavirus has been identified in the UK, the Health Secretary confirmed
Matt Hancock said the virus is believed to be causing the faster spread in the South East, while addressing the House of Commons today, Monday December 14.
He said: “We have identified a new variant of coronavirus, which may be associated with the faster spread in the south-east of England. Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.
“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, and numbers are increasing rapidly.”
The WHO has been notified and he said there is nothing to suggest this will cause a more serious illness, and nothing to suggest it won’t respond to treatment.
Hancock went on to explain, as further tests are conducted on the new variant of COVID-19 at Porton Down, it will be seen whether or not it is resistant to the vaccine.
But he said the medical advice is that it is ‘highly unlikely’ the vaccine won’t work on the new variant.
While speaking to MPs Hancock also confirmed London and some parts of Essex and Hertfordshire are moving into tier 3.
He said: “I need to tell the house that over the last week, we’ve seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.
“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.”
The parts of Essex covered included: Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Malden, Braintree and Chelmsford, Thurrock and Southend on Sea.
The parts of South Hertfordshire covered include: Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority area.
These restrictions will come into force at midnight on Wednesday morning, but other parts of country where their tier is set to be reviewed on that day are yet to be confirmed.
It is yet to be announced whether Cumbria will stay in tier 2 or move to the medium risk tier 1 or very high risk tier 3.