A new variant of Covid-19 has been identified - here’s what it means

Experts have identified a new variant of Covid-19 which may be responsible for the “faster spread” of the virus in the South East of England.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned MPs today (Mon 14 Dec) that numbers of the new variant are “increasing rapidly”.

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However, Hancock stressed that there is nothing to suggest the variant has a worse impact on patients, or is resistant to the existing coronavirus vaccine.

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Over 1,000 cases

Mr Hancock said that more than 1,000 cases of the new Covid variant have been identified so far, predominantly in the South of England. However, cases have also already been identified in almost 60 different local authority areas in the UK, with numbers continuing to increase.

Initial analysis has suggested that this variant seems to spread faster than those already in existence.

The Health Secretary warned that there have been “exponential rises” in Covid-19 in London and the South East, with cases not predominantly limited to school age children anymore, but all age groups.

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Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock said, “Over the last few days, thanks to our world-class genomic capability in the UK, we have identified a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in the South 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.”

Tier 3 measures

The news of the new variant comes following the government’s decision on 14 December to move London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire into Tier 3 restrictions on Wednesday 16 December.

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Covid cases in the capital are now doubling every seven days, marking a rise of 14 per cent in the last week, while hospital admissions are up by 13 per cent.

London, South East England and South Wales have seen the sharpest rise in cases.

The move into Tier 3 will see almost 14,000 pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes in the capital forced to close, or be restricted to takeaway services only.

The announcement came ahead of the scheduled review of England’s tier system on Wednesday, due to the significant increase in cases.

The next tier review is expected to take place on 23 December, a week earlier than planned.