New variant of Covid identified, health secretary confirms

Heath Secretary Matt Hancock speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Photo: House of Common/PA Wire

Health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed a new variant of coronavirus has been found. - Credit: PA

The health secretary has said that a new variant of coronavirus has been identified.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Matt Hancock, who is also West Suffolk MP, said it was believed to be behind the "faster spread" in London and the south, but had been identified in 60 local authorities around the country.

He announced the news before confirming that greater London, south-west Essex and south Hertfordshire would all move from Tier Two into Tier Three from Wednesday.

It comes ahead of the planned tier review on Wednesday. Norfolk and Suffolk are currently in Tier Two, and are expected to remain so.

He 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 east of England."

He said initial analysis suggested the variant was "growing faster" than the existing one, and said more than 1,000 cases with the new variant had already been identified, predominantly in the south-east of England.

But he said it had been identified in almost 60 local authorities nationally, and said numbers were "increasingly rapidly".

He said they had notified the World Health Organisation and that Public Health England was working hard to analyse the variant.

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Mr Hancock said: "I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it's highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine, but it shows we've got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus."

He added: "I need to tell the House that over the last week, we've seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.

"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."

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