A new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been identified across the South East of England, leading to the imposition of new tier 4 restrictions.
The variant was identified following the increase in cases seen in Kent and London. The variant has been named ‘VUI – 202012/01’ (the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020). As of 13 December, 1,108 cases with this variant have been identified, predominantly in the South and East of England.
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‘We are investigating a new strain of SARS-CoV-2, predominantly in Kent and the surrounding areas,’ said Dr Susan Hopkins, Test and Trace and PHE Joint Medical Advisor.
‘It is not unexpected that the virus should evolve and it’s important that we spot any changes quickly to understand the potential risk any variant may pose. There is currently no evidence that this strain causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography especially where there are increased cases being detected.’
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There is currently no evidence to suggest that the variant has any impact on disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. High numbers of cases of the variant virus have been observed in some areas where there is also a high incidence of COVID-19. It is not yet known whether the variant is responsible for these increased numbers of cases.
‘As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modelling data and rapidly rising incidence rates in the South East, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly,’ said Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty.
‘There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this.’