A “highly concerning” new variant of the Covid-19 virus which is believed to spread easier than the mutant strain that resulted in the creation of the new Tier 4 restrictions has been discovered in the UK, Matt Hancock has said.
It comes as the UK has seen the highest daily rise in cases. 39,237 new cases have been recorded in the latest reporting period in the UK. A further 744 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported which is the highest number since April 29.
The variant, believed to be behind an increase in cases in South Africa, has been discovered in two people in the UK thought to be contacts of those who travelled between the two countries in the last few weeks.
The Health Secretary told a Downing Street press briefing that the discovery would result in urgent new quarantine rules for recent visitors from South Africa.
Mr Hancock said: “This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant discovered in the UK.”
He announced a range of new measures intended to reduce the strain spreading further, including placing the two people known to be infected with the South African strain into quarantine.
He added: “Anyone in the UK who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight and anyone who is a close contact of someone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight, must quarantine immediately.
“They must restrict all contact with any other person whatsoever.”
West Sussex and the parts of East Sussex, Essex, Surrey and Hampshire not already in the top tier will enter Tier 4 from a minute past midnight on Boxing Day, with the exception of the New Forest.
They will be joined by Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
An additional six million people will be in Tier 4 as a result, bringing the total to 24million, or 43 per cent of the population of England.