A second new variant of COVID-19 has been detected in the United Kingdom.
The strain was imported into the country by two people that had travelled to South Africa, where the variant had been linked to a surge in cases.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said the UK government is set to implement travel restrictions on those entering the country from South Africa and urged those that had arrived in the last fortnight to isolate immediately for two weeks.
“These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain which is to be analysed at Porton Down.
“We are incredibly grateful to the South African government for the rigour of their science, and the openness and the transparency with which they have rightly acted as we did when we discovered a new variant here,” Hancock said.
Based on reports, the two newly identified variants – one found first in the UK and the South African variants share some similarities but have evolved separately.
Both are said to have a mutation – called N501Y – which is in a crucial part of the virus that it uses to infect the body’s cells.
Giving further insight into the two variants, Professor Susan Hopkins, Public Health England, said they both look like they are more transmissible, but that more is still be learnt about the variant imported from South Africa.
She said she was “pretty confident” the quarantine and travel rules would control the spread of the new variant.
Hopkins said, “The new variant in the UK which we’ve identified is very different from the variant in South Africa. It’s got different mutations.
“Both of them look like they’re more transmissible – we have more evidence on the transmission for the UK variant because we’ve been studying that in great detail with academic partners.
“We’re still learning about the South African variant and you’ve heard already the measures we’re introducing to ensure that we quarantine people who are coming in from South Africa, and therefore, we are pretty confident actually that the system we have in place will help control the spread.”
Hopkins said there was no evidence to suggest vaccines would be ineffective against the new variant.
“We have no evidence at the moment that the vaccine will not work.
“Actually what that means, in fact, is that there’s strong evidence that it will work because the vaccine produces a strong immune response and it’s broad and acts against lots of variation in the virus.
“What we are doing is laboratory studies with people who have had the previous infection, and who have had vaccine to look and see in the laboratory how their blood kills the virus.
“Those take a number of weeks as we grow the virus and do those studies.
“As soon as they are available, we will, of course, release them,” she said
Based on reports by scientists in South Africa, the variant “spread rapidly” and became the dominant form of the virus in parts of the country.
“Whilst the full significance of the mutations is yet to be determined, the genomic data, showing the rapid displacement of other lineages, suggest that this lineage may be associated with increased transmissibility,” they concluded.
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