England’s chief medical officer has warned that a newly identified variant of Covid-19 is more contagious than previous strains of the virus, prompting speculation the prime minister will have to order further restrictions before Christmas.
Professor Chris Whitty says “urgent work” is underway to rule out if the new strain, prevalent in the southeast of England, can cause a higher mortality rate.
“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,” he said in a statement.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a news conference Saturday after meeting with his cabinet on the faster spreading strain. With cases surging, Johnson could announce further restrictions.
The government’s scientific advisory group for Covid-19 has also warned the new strain is a “real cause for concern,” and called for urgent action. On Twitter, Sir Jeremy Farrar said, “Research is ongoing to understand more, but acting urgently now is critical. There is no part of the UK & globally that should not be concerned. As in many countries, the situation is fragile."
Whitty also urged people to take more precautions.
“Given this latest development it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission,” he said.
In Wales: The Welsh government has brought its planned lockdown forward to Sunday and will curtail Christmas, after a newly discovered strain of Covid-19 in south east England has been determined to be present “throughout Wales.”
Following an emergency cabinet meeting Saturday, the first minister said: “We now know that this new strain is significantly more infectious and spreads more quickly than the original one.”