Boris Johnson calls crisis meeting over new Covid strain
PM may introduce tighter travel restrictions due to rapid spread of virus mutation in south-east England
Fri 18 Dec 2020
Boris Johnson summoned ministers for an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss how to tackle mounting concerns about the new strain of coronavirus identified in parts of south-east England.
The variant is thought to be more infectious and could trigger possible restrictions including curbs on travel between the south-east, including London, and the rest of the country, according to reports, but ministers insisted that no decisions have been made.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, expressed concerns earlier this week about the new strain as he announced that a large swathe of the south-east would be placed under the toughest, tier 3 restrictions.
It is understood that government scientists have subsequently presented new evidence to ministers about the behaviour of this variant. A government official said: “There are concerns that it is more transmissible than the existing strain – and that sense is hardening.”Covid cases and deaths today: coronavirus UK map
An announcement could be made as soon as Saturday about how ministers plan to try to contain the new threat, with particular concerns about the risks of cross-UK travel in the run-up to Christmas.
Professor Sir Mark Walport – a member of the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) – said there was a real possibility that the strain could have a “transmission advantage”.https://6f3dbbb26591ceecf31cd11aff7b1f8d.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0
“What happens with viruses is they do naturally mutate all the time and the ones that are likely to do well are the ones that increase transmission,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight. “We know that this is a new variant, it has been seen in other countries but it seems to be quite widespread which suggests that it has got a transmission advantage. Scientists are working extremely hard to work out what is going on. But it does definitely seem possible that this transmits more easily. It will make the social-distancing even more critical.”
Hancock told the Commons on Monday that cases of the variant were found in almost 60 areas. He said: “Over the last few days, thanks to our world-class genomic capability in the UK, 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 variance. 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.
“Similar variants have been identified in other countries over the last few months. We’ve notified the World Health Organization and Public Health England is working hard to continue its expert analysis at Porton Down.”
Hancock added: “I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.
“But it shows we’ve got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus.”
He added there was no evidence that the symptoms are different or worse or that different Covid-19 testing is required.Topics
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What happens with viruses is they do naturally mutate all the time and the ones that are likely to do well are the ones that increase transmission,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight. “We know that this is a new variant, it has been seen in other countries but it seems to be quite widespread which suggests that it has got a transmission advantage. Scientists are working extremely hard to work out what is going on. But it does definitely seem possible that this transmits more easily. It will make the social-distancing even more critical.”