02:05 GMT20 January 2021
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    Last week, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned Britons to reduce their social contacts amid the emergence of a new strain of the coronavirus that he said "was out of control".

    A new strain of COVID-19 is 56% more transmissible that earlier variants and may result in a significant increase in infections, according to scientists from the London-based Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases (CMMID).

    In a study published on the CMMID's website, researchers said they had created "a two-strain mathematical model of coronavirus transmission to observed COVID-19 hospital admissions, hospital and ICU [Intensive Care Unit] bed occupancy, and deaths".

    They added they were unable to find "clear evidence" that the new strain results in "greater or lesser severity" of the disease than regular COVID-19.  

    "Nevertheless, the increase in transmissibility is likely to lead to a large increase in incidence, with COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths projected to reach higher levels in 2021 than were observed in 2020, even if regional tiered restrictions implemented before 19 December are maintained", the scientists claimed.

    They also warned that massive resurgences of the virus may take place after the "easing of control measures". The scientists underscored the need to "greatly accelerate [the COVID-19] vaccine roll-out to have an appreciable impact in suppressing the resulting disease burden".

    The CMMID study was released after UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced last week that a new variant of COVID-19 had been identified in the south of England, and was responsible for about 1,000 cases.

    In a separate development, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced fresh coronavirus restrictions last Sunday that mainly affected London and southeast England to try to prevent the new virus strain from spreading across the country.

    The move came as the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s Maria Van Kerkhove said that countries should currently take steps to control the spread of COVID-19 in order to prevent the virus from having further opportunities to mutate, following recent discoveries of new variants of the disease in the UK, Denmark, and South Africa.

    The new strain, dubbed VUI - 202012/01, causes the same symptoms as the regular coronavirus infection, such as cough, fever, as well as the loss of taste and smell, according to the UK's National Health Service (NHS).

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