UK Detects New Virus Strain As London To Move To Tier 3

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  1. Mahmoud Abudeif

    Mahmoud Abudeif Golden Member

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    UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told the House of Commons a new variant of coronavirus has been identified in England.

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    In a statement, Mr Hancock 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 faster spread in the South of England."

    Matt Hancock said the numbers of the new variant of coronavirus "are increasing rapidly".

    He told the Commons: "Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.

    "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."

    Mr 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.

    "I need to tell the House that over the last week, we've seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.

    "We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out."

    His comments were echoed by England's Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Whitty, who said there is no evidence that the new variant caused worse or different symptoms.

    "There are many variants," Dr Whitty said. "It just happens that this one has quite a few more mutations than some of the other variants, so that's the reason why we've taken it particularly seriously."

    Mr Hancock made the statement as he outlined that London will move into the highest tier of Covid-19 restrictions from Wednesday as a result of soaring case rates.

    He told the Commons: "We've therefore decided to move Greater London, the South and West of Essex, which includes Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Castle Point, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford, along with Thurrock and Southend-On-Sea borough councils and the south of Hertfordshire which means Broxbourne, Hertsmere, Watford and the Three Rivers local authority into Tier 3 which is the very high alert level.

    "This means that people can only see friends and family they don't live with or are in a support bubble with in outdoor public places and of course in line with the rule of six.

    "Hospitality settings must close except takeaway and delivery and people should avoid travelling outside their area and reduce the number of journeys they make wherever possible."

    Mr Hancock said that the action being taken is "absolutely essential".

    He told MPs: "I know that this is difficult news and I know that it will mean plans disrupted and that for businesses affected, it will be a significant blow, but this action is absolutely essential not just to keep people safe, but because we've seen early action can prevent more damaging and longer lasting problems later.

    "These restrictions will come into force at midnight on Wednesday morning because when the virus moves quickly, we must move quickly too and we must take the actions that are not necessarily easy but are effective.

    "We'll continue to stand with those who are most impacted through our furlough scheme and support for the self-employed, we've already begun to surge mobile testing into these parts of London, Essex and Kent and we're extending community testing too.

    "In addition, I can tell the House that this weekend as part of our expansion of community testing, we're extending it to 67 local authorities across England and further today we'll be publishing a guide for colleagues to promote, support and champion local community testing and contact tracing."

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    GPs in England roll out vaccine amid new Christmas warnings

    Family doctors across England are to begin vaccinating their patients against Covid-19 as health experts issued fresh warnings about a rise in cases caused by Christmas socialising.

    GP practices in more than 100 locations are to start administering the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this afternoon, with the over-80s among those called up to receive the jab.

    Care home residents in Scotland will also start receiving the vaccine, while those in England's care homes can expect to see roving teams administer the jab from later this week.

    Dr Nikita Kanani, director of primary care at NHS England, urged all those expecting to receive the vaccine to be patient and wait to be called up by their GP.

    "There's a huge range of things that general practices are already doing so if we can ask for people to just wait a moment and wait to be contacted that would be very appreciated," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

    Meanwhile, Business Secretary Alok Sharma told BBC Breakfast that arrangements were in place "to make sure the distribution of vaccines is not in any way disrupted" in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

    He added that there would be "some millions" of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the UK before Christmas.
    "We are going as fast as we can in terms of the vaccination programme," he said.

    The vaccination centres will operate from doctors' surgeries or community hubs in villages, towns and cities, and come after more than 70 UK hospital hubs began administering jabs.

    GP leaders have warned that the requirement to observe patients for 15 minutes after the jab poses a challenge for some practices with limited space, especially while also observing social distancing rules.

    Some GP surgeries have turned to their communities to ask for help, requesting outdoor marquees or tents that can be heated so the observations can take place outside.

    It comes as experts issued fresh warnings about families and friends meeting for Christmas - which is widely expected to result in a spike in cases.

    Under the rules, people will be able to form a "Christmas bubble" between 23 and 27 December made up of people from no more than three households.

    Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, warned that the virus "spreads like cigarette smoke" indoors and people could easily fall ill.

    She told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "This is the worry about Christmas because once you enter somebody's home, you're probably going to get the virus if someone else there has it.

    "The three things I'd say to people is first, we have a vaccine right around the corner - Pfizer is already being rolled out, AstraZeneca is on its way.

    "So within weeks people are going to be vaccinated and safe, who otherwise would be at risk.

    "Secondly, NHS staff are exhausted, they are begging people to be cautious, to not get infected, because they're the ones in the end who have to be showing up in hospital on Christmas Day, on Boxing Day and New Year's and actually having to take care of everyone that comes through.

    "And third, look at what happened in the States with American Thanksgiving.

    "You only have to read the stories, look at the figures to see what happens if people aren't cautious right now over the Christmas period."

    The first review of England's tier allocation is due take place on Wednesday and NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England, has urged "extreme caution" in moving any area of the country to a lower tier, while areas should be moved into the highest tier of restrictions "as soon as this is needed, without any delay".

    A Government spokeswoman said ministers will not "hesitate to take necessary actions to protect local communities".

    Meanwhile, schools in Greenwich have been asked to close from this evening and switch to online learning following "exponential growth" of coronavirus in the south-east London borough.

    London mayor Sadiq Khan has said the Government must consider asking schools and colleges to close early ahead of Christmas in the capital and reopen later in January

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