05:01 GMT20 January 2021
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    Earlier this week, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there had been a sharp rise in coronavirus infections across London and the south of England caused by a "new variant" of COVID-19.

    UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson may announce the strengthening of coronavirus restrictions in southeast England later on Saturday, due to a mutant strain of COVID-19 that is believed to be 50 percent more contagious than any strain detected before.   

    The Daily Mail cited an unnamed government source as saying the restrictions may see London and the South East being "cut off" from the rest of the UK with possible travel bans.

    The source claimed that "there is growing concern about the new strain, and how quickly it transmits".

    "Ministers are considering what action could be taken as a result. Everyone is very worried – if it transmits more quickly and is just as harmful then there is a concern", the insider noted, adding, however, that "there is no evidence as yet that it is more harmful".

    A separate government source was quoted by The Sun as warning that "this is a fluid situation but it's not looking good" and the government has "to act fast".

    Hancock Singles Out 'New Variant' of COVID-19

    This comes a few days after UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that British experts have so far found more than 1,000 people carrying "the new variant" of COVID-19, called VUI – 202012/01.

    He said the infections were "predominantly in the south of England" but that a spate of VUI – 202012/01 had also been identified in "nearly 60 different local authority areas".

    "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", Hancock underscored.

    Gov't Reportedly Considering Introducing Tier 4 to Contain COVID-19

    Johnson's possible announcement is expected amid reports the government is considering taking anti-coronavirus measures that will be even tougher than the Tier 3 restrictions introduced in England a couple of days ago.

    According to The Mirror, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) earlier endorsed the so-called "Tier 4" step in a bid to tackle COVID-19.

    Professor John Edmunds of SAGE's scientific advisory panel, suggested that Tier 4 may be introduced after Christmas.

    "At the moment it doesn't look like the tier system is holding the epidemic wave back, unfortunately. So I think we are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them up, we really will. It's a horrible thing to have to say but we are in quite a difficult position", he told Sky News.

    Edmunds spoke as London and other parts of southeast England moved into Tier 3, the highest level of the COVID-19 alert system implemented by the UK government to try to stop the spread of the pandemic.

    In accordance with the new measures, bars, restaurants, pubs, cafes, and entertainment venues will only be able to offer takeaway food. Under Tier 3, members of different households cannot meet indoors, and the public will be banned from sports venues, although schools and shops will remain open.


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