New mutant Covid strain is driving cases across UK – with London seeing worst rates
THE NEW mutant strain of Covid-19 is driving cases across the UK with London seeing the worst rates in the country, official data has revealed.
Government experts have now warned that the new strain is slowly spreading across the rest of the country – after it was first discovered in the South.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock today said that the majority of cases in the UK are being caused by the variant which was first discovered in the South.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference tonight Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the new variant is increasing.
The blue lines on the chart show the new variant and the charts for London and the South East have the biggest increase in cases.
In all other parts of the country, the charts show that cases of the other variants are levelling out.
Explaining the above chart Prof Van-Tam said: "Testing that is compatible with identification of the new variant are the dark blue lines and the other variants are the brown lines.
"What you can see is that in the bottom right hand corner, you can see that in terms of the percentage of testing positive for the virus with the new variant is increasing at a really substantial rate indeed.
"Most of the other areas, I have to say I think that to the right hand side of each chart, with not much more than the eye of faith – you can see the upticks beginning to occur.
"The new variant with it's increased transmissibility is spreading to other areas of the UK."
Earlier today Mr Hancock blamed the explosion on the new strain of the virus tearing through the UK.
He told Radio 4: "The 'suppress the virus' bit has got a whole lot harder since the new variant really got going over December
"Now the majority of the new cases in the UK are the new variant. It is much, much easier to transmit from one person to another."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new variant has started to "spike" and that the way to beat it is with the vaccine and its roll out.
Mr Johnson highlighted the efforts of the British public and said it was "sad" that the new strain had hindered these efforts, with some areas going into strict Tier 4 restrictions.
He said: "It's important to carry on with the tiering despite a regional difference.
"We will keep reviewing it for all parts of the country."
It came as:
- Covid-hit London hospitals could sent patients to YORKSHIRE as intensive care units reach breaking point
- The Oxford vaccine has been approved with millions to get the jab from Monday
- More areas are expected to be put into Tier 4 restrictions today
- Brits were banned from starting 2021 with a kiss to stop the spread of coronavirus
- The new mutant strain of Covid is more than 50% infectious than the earlier variant
"It is absolutely critical that people follow the rules and do everything they can to stop the spread, particularly of the new variant of this virus that transmits so much faster.
"So, the challenge of suppressing the virus has got harder, but thankfully, the cavalry has arrived in terms of not one but two vaccines, and we've got to get them into people's arms as quickly as they're produced."
According to Public Health England, people with the mutant variant are 54 per cent more likely to pass it on to others.
But the strain does not appear to cause worse symptoms or more deaths.
The conference this evening comes hours after Mr Hancock plunged more Brits into Tier 4.
The MP told Sky News: "We are facing a very significant challenge in the NHS right now.
"There has been a significant rise in the number of cases – the highest number of cases recorded yesterday, 53,000 cases."
Today it was reported that almost 1,000 more Brits have lost their lives to coronavirus in the highest toll since April.
A further 981 have died and 50,023 more have been diagnosed with coronavirus overnight – the second highest increase ever – amid rocketing infection rates.
The death toll is likely to swell in the coming days after a reporting lag over Christmas. Scotland and Northern Ireland didn't record deaths over the festive period.
There are fears the NHS is at breaking point with a major incident declared today in Essex as Covid patients threaten to overwhelm hospitals.
Critical care and bed capacity are among areas of concern, as well as staff sickness and the ability to discharge patients quickly into safe environments.
But Hancock gave a glimmer of hope this morning as it was announced Oxford University's Covid vaccine would be rolled out to Brits from Monday.
He said the new jab will help Britain out of the pandemic by spring with 100million doses of the vaccine ordered.
Along with the 40 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine, Britain now has enough doses ordered to vaccinate the entire population, Hancock said.
He added: "I am now, with this approval this morning, highly confident that we can get enough vulnerable people vaccinated by the spring that we can now see the route out of this pandemic.
"The vaccine provides that route out. We have all just got to hold our nerve over the weeks to come."
Prof Van Tam added that it will be a few more days or weeks until scientists could give a steer on whether or not the vaccines would work against the strains.
"Neutralisation is a cross reaction, the vaccine will cover a large range of variants.
"The vaccines create a soup of antibodies which means if one fails there will be others behind it. You would need substantial mutations for the vaccine not to work."
But a doom-monger government advisor has warned there could be "tens of thousands" of deaths if the UK doesn't tighten its Covid restrictions.
Sage expert Professor Andrew Hayward told BBC Breakfast: "I think we're really facing a very stark choice between many tens of thousands of avoidable deaths despite the vaccine or tighter restrictions across the country that will damage our economy.
"I think the scale of the threat that we face means that we really will need to tighten across the country."
He said it was "early days yet" to see whether Tier 4 restrictions in England had helped control the spread of the virus.
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