UK tightens lockdown as newer corona virus strains threaten to worsen pandemic
30 December 2020
The UK has reported another mutant variant of coronavirus which, the authorities say, is capable of transmitting at a faster rate than any other variant discovered in the UK.
The new mutant virus is believed to have been transmitted through contacts from South Africa and is causing a worldwide scare over a fresh wave of the pandemic.
Health secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday said two cases of a faster spreading strain of the novel corona virus have been reported in the UK. Like the mutant variant earlier found in the UK, the new variant, which is believed to have been imported from South Africa, is also likely to spread faster, he said.
"Both (cases of the new variant) are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks," Hancock said, addressing a briefing from 10 Downing Street. "This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK," he said.
UK has restricted travel from South Africa and has advised anyone who has been in South Africa or been in contact with someone linked with the country in the last fortnight to immediately quarantine.
Analysis on the new mutation and its trajectory in the UK is meanwhile being analysed by scientific experts at Porton Down, the country's specialist laboratory in south west England.
On Wednesday, the cabinet discussed ways of extending lockdown to more parts of the UK and to enforce strictest curbs after the UK reported 36,804 positive coronavirus cases in one day, the highest so far during the pandemic.
Accordingly, the government plans to place east and south-east England under Tier 4 highest alert level from 26 December.
The minister said the government Oxford University vaccine being produced by AstraZeneca has submitted its full data package for regulatory approval, even as the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine rollout continues.
"I know how hard 2020 has been for everybody But we mustn't give up now we know that we can control this virus we know we can get through this together I know from the bottom of my heart, that there are brighter skies ahead," he said.
Meanwhile, the new variant identified in the UK last week as VUI-202012/01 has led to several countries, including Europen neighbours, cutting off transport links with the UK in an effort to try and contain its spread outside Britain.
The authorities are now trying to clear the build-up of trucks on the UK border with France after Paris agreed to lift its ban on UK arrivals on the condition of a negative coronavirus test.
The annual Christmas and New Year festivities stand abandoned after scientists confirmed the new coronavirus variant was spreading more rapidly.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson sceapped a planned five-day "Christmas bubble." Under the revised rules, only people living in tiers one to three are permitted to socialise in a bubble of three households on Christmas Day. Those in Tier 4 areas must only celebrate Christmas with members of their own household and support bubble. They will not be allowed to travel to other tiers to see family and friends.
The Opposition Labour Party has sought stricter and faster curbs to contain the spread of the disease.
"If the scientific advice is tougher restrictions, don't sit on it for weeks like you did last time, don't dither, don't delay because that has disastrous consequences, take the action that is needed now to save lives," said Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth.