A "new variant" of coronavirus has been identified in the UK, which is believed to be causing the faster spread in the southeast, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
Over 1,000 cases of the new variant have been identified, "predominantly in the south of England", Hancock told the House of Commons this afternoon.
“Over the last few days we have identified a new variant of coronavirus”— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) December 14, 2020
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock says “over a thousand cases” have been found in the south east of England but "there is nothing to suggest" it will "fail to respond to a vaccine"https://t.co/QzsDiuBJmz pic.twitter.com/lkGTW7DsK9
The new variant is spreading faster than the existing strain of coronavirus and is believed to be fueling the "very sharp, exponential rises" in cases across the southeast part of the commonwealth, he said.
Hancock told the Commons that scientific experts do not yet know whether the increases are the result of the new variant, but added: "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."
A decision on whether the capital and parts of the southeast should move up a tier was due on Wednesday, but Hancock said the surge in cases made it necessary to bring the changes forward, with London now set to enter Tier 3 on Wednesday.
From Midnight on Wednesday morning, more areas will move into Tier 3 restrictions.— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) December 14, 2020
I know this is difficult news, but this action is absolutely essential to help prevent more damaging & longer-lasting problems later.
When the virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too. pic.twitter.com/QxKuwr9qs5
Prof Alan McNally, an expert at the University of Birmingham, said UK testing labs had picked up on this new variant in the last few weeks. He told the BBC: "Let's not be hysterical. It doesn't mean it's more transmissible or more infectious or dangerous.
Huge efforts ongoing at characterising the variant and understanding its emergence. Important to keep a calm and rationale perspective. But again also be in awe of the surveillance efforts in the UK that allowed this to be picked up so fast— Alan McNally (@alanmcn1) December 14, 2020
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the new COVID variant was a concerning development.
This is clearly a potentially concerning development. Our CMO @DrGregorSmith has given me an initial briefing this afternoon and @scotgov will be monitoring closely. We will also consider whether any additional precautions are required meantime https://t.co/0PEkZvbanM— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 14, 2020