London and the South East could be ‘cut off’ from the rest of the UK with potential travel bans as a new ‘highly contagious’ coronavirus variant rips through the regions.
Boris Johnson could announce a strengthening of Covid-19 advice as soon as today after holding a meeting in which ministers are understood to have discussed how to contain the mutant strain.
This has so-far been confined to London and the South East, with scientists warning the new variant is 50 per cent more contagious than any strain detected before.
It is understood the Prime Minister was last night provided with new evidence on the harmfulness of the mutant strain.
London and the South East could be ‘cut off’ from the rest of the UK with travel banned as a new ‘highly contagious’ coronavirus variant rips through the regions. Pictured: Oxford Street on Friday
Vast swathes of the South East were thrust into the harshest set of Covid restrictions on Wednesday after experiencing a ‘sharp and exponential’ growth in cases
A Government source told the Mail: ‘There is growing concern about the new strain, and how quickly it transmits.
‘Ministers are considering what action could be taken as a result. Everyone is very worried – if it transmits more quickly and is just as harmful then there is a concern.’
But they added: ‘There is no evidence as yet that it is more harmful.’
A Whitehall source insider told The Sun: ‘This is a fluid situation but it’s not looking good and we have to act fast.’
UK experts have so far found more than 1,000 people carrying the new variant, called VUI – 202012/01, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Monday.
There have been reports of the strain in at least 60 local authority areas and it is believed to be similar to other strains in Europe, he claimed.
The fast-spreading strain is believed to have originated in Kent before spreading to London and the Home Counties.
Boris Johnson could announce another tightening of Covid-19 restrictions as soon as today – after calling a meeting of senior ministers last night to discuss how to contain the mutant strain
The strain has so-far been confined to London and the South East, with scientists warning the new variant is 50 per cent more contagious than any detected before. Pictured: Oxford Street on Friday
It is understood the Prime Minister was last night provided with new evidence on the harmfulness of the mutant strain. Pictured: London on Friday
It is understood that families in these areas will be advised to stay at home over Christmas regardless of whether these travel restrictions are imposed today.
Vast swathes of the South East were thrust into the harshest set of Covid restrictions on Wednesday after experiencing a ‘sharp and exponential’ growth in cases.
Despite this, up to three households in Britain will still be allowed to form a ‘Christmas bubble’ between December 23 and 27 under rules announced by the Government ahead of the festive period.
Scientists fear this temporary easing of restrictions could the new faster-spreading Covid variant which is believed to be behind the surge of cases in southern England.
Boris Johnson said on Friday it is ‘vital’ that people begin to minimise contact with those from outside their bubbles in order to ‘avoid passing the virus on to loved ones this Christmas.’
In a message on Twitter, he added: : ‘If you are forming a Christmas Bubble, it’s vital that from today, you minimise contact with people from outside your household.
‘Everyone must take personal responsibility to avoid passing the virus on to loved ones this Christmas.’
Swathes of the Home Counties will join London in the Tier 3 today while Manchester and the North East were told they could not move down a grade despite recording fewer cases
He added that the three household limit was ‘very much a maximum’ and not a ‘target you should aim for.’
It comes as the Department of Health recorded 28,507 new cases of the virus in the last 24 hours, up a third from the 21,672 last Friday, and 489 deaths, a rise of 14 per cent from a week ago.
Meanwhile, SAGE now estimates the Covid R rate – the average number of others infected by each person with the disease – is between 1.1 and 1.2 in the UK.
It is the first time the reproductive number has definitely been above the crucial mark since the first week of the national lockdown last month.
In England, the rate stands even higher at between 1.1 and 1.3, while experts warned it might be as high as 1.4 in the East, and 1.3 in both London and the South East.
Last week, Britain’s R number – which doesn’t represent Friday’s outbreak – was between 0.9 and 1.
Professor Chris Whitty told a Downing Street press conference on Monday it was possible the strain of Covid-19 ripping through southern England is more infectious than regular coronavirus.
He said: ‘The main reason we are raising this to people’s attention is the question about whether this is spreading more quickly. It may be ’cause and effect’, or it may not.’
But the chief medical officer said there was ‘no evidence’ it was more dangerous, or that it could slip past Covid-19 vaccines or tests.
He added: ‘There isn’t huge selection pressure on this virus and therefore it would be surprising – not impossible, but pretty surprising – if this virus would actually have evolved to get around the vaccine.’
No information has been publicly announced about the strain and it does not appear to exist in scientific studies, nor to be linked to any of the other mutations that have been found in Europe.
Other versions of coronavirus have been found throughout the year and experts say it is totally normal for the virus to change as it spreads, and is not cause for alarm.
Variants called D614G and 20A.EU1 have both been found to be widespread and faster to spread than original versions that came out of East Asia, but not more deadly.