Two cases of another new and “highly concerning” strain of Covid-19 have been identified in the UK.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street press conference the variant was more transmissible and was thought to have come from South Africa.
It comes as a different variant of the disease has prompted a travel ban between Britain and many European countries, after the strain spread rapidly throughout the south-east of England.
Mr Hancock said this second strain of concern had been identified in contacts of cases who had travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.
“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,” he said.
“This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK.”
The health secretary said both cases and close contacts of the cases have been quarantined, and there are immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa.
The UK government is now telling those who have been in contact with anyone who has been in South Africa in the last fortnight that they must quarantine.
“These measures are temporary while we investigate further this new strain which is shortly to be analysed at Porton Down,” Mr Hancock said.
He added that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had now submitted full data to the UK’s regulator for approval.
“Amid all this difficulty, the great hope for 2021 is of course the vaccine,” he said.
“The vaccine is our route out of all this and however tough this Christmas and this winter is going to be, we know that the transforming force of science is helping to find a way through.
“I’m delighted to be able to tell you that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine developed here in the UK has submitted its full data package to the MHRA for approval.
“This is the next step towards a decision on the deployment of the vaccine which is already being manufactured, including here in the UK.”