MUTATION: There have been 77 cases of the South African mutant strain of coronavirus now detected in the UK.
The UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock gave the figure this morning, saying that all of the cases of the South African mutation of the coronavirus seen so far were in people who had recently travelled. Mr Hancock told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘There is not what we call community transmission where you find a case that you can’t find the link back to travel.
At the moment it is all linked to travel.’ He said there had also been nine cases of a mutant strain first identified in Brazil. The new mutations had been identified because both Brazil and South Africa had ‘decent-sized’ genomic sequencing programmes but other countries were less well covered, he said. ‘The new mutation is not what I really worry about, but it is the one that is out there that hasn’t been spotted,’ he told Sky News.
‘There’s probably those elsewhere that simply haven’t been picked up because the country doesn’t have that genomic sequencing service.’ It comes as the government is reportedly preparing to bring in a mandatory quarantine system where people from high-risk countries will have to pay for a hotel stay upon arrival in the UK. Following the emergence of new mutations of the coronavirus in Brazil and South Africa which may be less susceptible to the vaccines, Mr Hancock said the Government would adopt a ‘precautionary’ approach to protecting the UK’s border.
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock warned that the Government is a long, long, long way’ from being able to lift coronavirus confinement restrictions in England. Although three-quarters of all those over 80 in the UK have now been vaccinated, with a similar number of those in care homes, he said that case numbers were ‘incredibly high’ and the NHS remained under intense pressure.
Mr Hancock said that while he hoped schools in England could reopen by Easter, it would depend on the levels of infection in the community at that time. ‘We have got to look at the data, we have got to look at the impact of the vaccination programme,’ he said. “The Education Secretary (Gavin Williamson) has said that we will ensure schools get two weeks’ notice of return. I don’t know whether it will be then or before then. We have got to watch the data.’