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Health secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs that a ‘new variant’ of coronavirus has been identified.
In a briefing with MPs, which is thought to currently be in progress today, December 14, Hancock said the variant could be the cause of the fast spread of the virus in the south of England.
Currently, further tests are being conducted on the new variant to see whether it is resistant to the vaccine.
However, the health secretary said it is ‘highly unlikely’ the current vaccine being rolled out in the UK won’t work with the new variant.
We have identified a new variant of coronavirus, which may be associated with the fastest spread in the south-east of England.
Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants. We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant, predominantly in the south of England, although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas, and numbers are increasing rapidly.
He has also announced that London and other areas in the south east will move into tier 3 restrictions from midnight on Wednesday, December 16, as Sky News reports.
This includes Kent, parts of Essex, and Hertfordshire. In Essex, this includes Basildon, Brentwod, Chelmsford, Braintree, Harlow Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Malden, Thurrock and Southend on Sea.
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.
In Hertfordshire, Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority areas will move into tier 3.
From Wednesday, bars, restaurants, pubs and non-essential shops across the capital will be closed until further notice.
Under tier 3 rules, people of separate households who are not in the same support bubble must not meet socially indoors, in private gardens or in most outdoor venues.
The ‘rule of six’ will come into play, which allows people of different households to meet in outdoor parks, playgrounds and sport facilities.
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