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New strain appears in southern third wave

Tuesday December 15th 2020

A new strain of SARS-CoV-2 has been linked to the resurgence of the pandemic in southern England, it has been announced.

So far 1,108 people have been found to be infected with the new strain, VUI-202012/01, Public Health England said. These are mainly in the south and east of England, especially in Kent.

The agency said there was no evidence yet suggesting the strain was linked to increased infectivity – or to severity of disease. It said high numbers of cases had been found in areas with rapidly increasing numbers of infections.

The news emerged as the government put London into Tier 3 lockdown in an effort to stem the surging third wave of the pandemic before the holiday.

Dr Susan Hopkins, from the agency, said: “It is not unexpected that the virus should evolve and it’s important that we spot any changes quickly to understand the potential risk any variant may pose. There is currently no evidence that this strain causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography especially where there are increased cases being detected.”

Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “The pressure on the virus to evolve is increased by the fact that so many millions of people have now been infected. Most of the mutations will not be significant or cause for concern, but some may give the virus an evolutionary advantage which may lead to higher transmission or mean it is more harmful.

“The full significance of this is not yet clear – that includes whether a new strain is responsible for the current rise of infections in parts of the UK and, if so, what this may or may not mean for transmission and the efficacy of the first vaccines and treatments. This is potentially serious; the surveillance and research must continue and we must take the necessary steps to stay ahead of the virus.

“Above all, this is a reminder that there is still so much to learn about COVID-19.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs yesterday: “Similar variants has been identified in other countries over the last few months. We have notified the World Health Organisation about this new variant. And Public Health England is working hard to continue its expert analysis at Porton Down.

“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.”

British Medical Association London regional chair Dr Gary Marlowe said: “The escalation in London shows how quickly progress to control the virus has been undone and with the vaccination roll out still in its infancy, there is now no option other than to move London into the highest Tier.

“As a GP working in London, I have seen, first-hand, the sharp rise in the numbers of my patients testing positive in the last week. The reality is that some patients testing positive in London will require hospital admission – to an NHS already buckling under the strain. Even with Christmas round the corner, now is not the time to let down our guard.

“We need to see consistent and widespread mask wearing - where people are less than two metres apart - and clear measures to monitor, support and enforce compliance of infection control measures.”

Tags: Flu & Viruses | NHS | UK News

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