The surge of a new Covid-19 strain going around the south-east of England has sparked mass concern all over the world after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning it could be spreading up to 70 percent faster than the original variant. A number of European countries have placed travel restrictions on the UK as a consequence, with dozens more following suit on Monday. France’s decision to stop accompanied freight from travelling across the Channel for at least two days has proved the biggest issue for Britain as businesses warn about potential food supply shortages.
But today Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced there has been yet another strain of coronavirus discovered, this time in South Africa.
South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the new strain appeared to spread faster, but that it was too early to tell of its severity or whether the new Covid vaccines would work against it.
He said: “The evidence that has been collated strongly suggests that the current second wave we are experiencing is being driven by this new variant.”
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 has been discovered in the UK.”
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday it was in touch with the South African researchers who identified the new strain.
WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said: “We are working with them with our SARS-CoV-2 Virus evolution working group.
“They are growing the virus in the country and they’re working with researchers to determine any changes in the behaviour of the virus itself in terms of transmission.
Just like the UK, South Africa has found itself isolated by a series of travel bans following the discovery of the new strain.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, Mr Vallance said there is “no evidence that the disease course is any different”.
The Chief Medical Advisor’s view was backed up by Wales’ deputy chief medical director Professor Chris Jones.
Professor Jones said: “We don’t know for certain that asymptomatic people will demonstrate this variant but there is absolutely no reason to think they would not.
“At the moment the evidence is that the illness created by this virus variant is indistinguishable from the previous Covid-19 illness that we recognise.
“So I would assume that people would be just as likely to be asymptomatic as before.”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said on Monday there were now more than 600 cases of the new variant in Wales, adding that it’s “almost certainly a significant underestimation”.
Since early November, the strain has shown “exponential growth” according to Nervtag, the advisory group on new respiratory viruses.
Other cases have been confirmed in a number of countries around the world, including Gibraltar, Australia and Denmark.