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New strain puts UK in quarantine

Monday December 21st 2020

The UK was Europe’s sickest nation today as government scientists confirmed the country was being afflicted by a highly infectious new strain of the COVID-19 virus.

Daily infection numbers hit a record high as public health officials confirmed the new strain was closely linked to rising infection rates.

Many countries ordered travel bans on the UK amid suggestions that the strain may be 70% more transmissible than others.

Government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said there were 23 genetic changes in the new strain, which accounts for 60% of new cases of infection in London.

According to a Public Health England assessment, the strain first occurred in the south east of England in September and was responsible for 28% of new infections in London in November.

Infection monitoring suggests the new strain is putting huge pressure on hospitals but has not increased numbers of deaths since the peak of the “second wave” in November. The UK reported 35,928 new cases of infection yesterday and 326 new deaths. The number was dwarfed only by the USA, which reported more than 183,000 cases of infection.

On Saturday English hospitals had 16,183 COVID-19 patients occupying beds, very close to the numbers at the peak of the first wave in April. However, 1,239 patients were on mechanical ventilation, still fewer than half the number during the first wave.

Public Health England yesterday confirmed that a range of data supported the evidence of the increased transmissibility of the new strain, VUI – 202012/01.

It said there was no evidence so far it increased the risk of severe disease or death – but said it was continuing to research this. The variant has so far been found in 144 districts of England.

It said: “The increase in cases linked to the new variant first came to light in late November when PHE was investigating why infection rates in Kent were not falling despite national restrictions. We then discovered a cluster linked to this variant spreading rapidly into London and Essex.”

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “Research is ongoing to understand more, but acting urgently now is critical. There is no part of the UK and globally that should not be concerned. As in many countries, the situation is fragile.”

Tags: Europe | Flu & Viruses | Genetics | UK News

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