In a TV briefing, Hancock said that the new strain was detected in two patients, both of whom had traveled from South Africa over the past few weeks.
“This new variant is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant has been discovered in the UK,” he said.
Hancock said the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer and others had worked with their South African counterparts over the last day, and the cases were detected thanks to the UK’s surveillance and “the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans.”
Speaking at the same TV briefing, Dr. Susan Hopkins from Public Health England said the South Africa variant has very different mutations comparing to the one found in the UK recently, but both of them “look like they’re more transmissible.”
While there is more evidence on the transmissibility of the UK variant, Hopkins said, “we’re still learning about the South African variant.”
The South Africa variant is being called 501.V2.
In response to the South African variant, Hancock said the cases and close contacts of the cases are being quarantined, and the UK government is placing immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa.
Hancock told anyone in the UK who has been in South Africa in the past 14 days—and their close contacts—that they must immediately restrict all contact with any other person.
“We’ll be changing the law to give this legal effect imminently,” he added.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jenny Harries said that viruses are generally expected to mutate. She and Hopkins both said the system in place should help control the spread of the virus.
Hancock on Dec. 14 told Parliament that a new variant of the CCP virus had been found in the UK. On Dec. 19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new variant, named “VUI—202012/01,” could be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the old variant, according to modelling.
As a result, the UK moved London and swathes of the South East and the East of England into newly created tier four restrictions, which are broadly equivalent to the national lockdown in England in November.
A five-day relaxation of restrictions across the UK to allow three families to meet has been cancelled for tier four areas, and reduced to one-day only in the rest of the county.
Hancock on Wednesday announced that more areas are to move into tier four from Boxing Day.