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Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons on Monday afternoon, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that a new strain of coronavirus had been identified.
So, what do we know about the new strain?
What is the new strain?
A new strain of Coronavirus has shown up in surveillance in the past two months containing a number of different mutations. The strain has mainly been detected in the South of England where COVID-19 cases are growing fastest, however, more than 1,000 cases have been identified across around 60 local authority areas.
Mutations are where viruses undergo (generally small) genetic changes. Mutations are not uncommon and can have different effects, positive and negative, or no effect at all.
It has been suggested that the new mutation may be behind the virus spreading faster in parts of South East England recently, but the extent to which this is correct is currently unknown.
What did Health Secretary Matt Hancock say?
Speaking to MPs when announcing the implementation of Tier 3 restrictions for parts of the South East, Mr Hancock said that there was ‘nothing to suggest’ that the new strain of virus caused worse disease or meant that vaccines would no longer work.
Mr Hancock said the World Health Organisation has been notified about the new strain and that studies of the new variant are ongoing.
What is being done about the new strain and should we be worried?
Research is currently ongoing to learn more about the new strain of the virus in order to understand how it emerged and the effects it may have. It is currently unknown whether the new strain is more infectious or dangerous.
It is normal for viruses to evolve and change, so politicians and scientists and currently advising people to not be too worried about the strain.
In the summer, a so-called ‘Spanish strain’ of the virus was identified and spread across much of Europe (including to the UK) as a result of tourism. It is not thought that the strain is more dangerous than other variants of COVID-19.