Matt Hancock-Covid-19 new variant south africa

Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Dozens of ‘new variant cases’ reported in Britain – as UK govt blames SA travellers

The British Government has blamed ‘a number of travellers from South Africa’ for importing a new variant of coronavirus into the country.

Matt Hancock-Covid-19 new variant south africa

Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has insisted that Britain ‘is acting quickly to protect the country against the new variant of COVID-19’. The strain, first detected in South Africa, has showed signs that it could evade the impact of all vaccines that have been rolled out so far. But experts from the scientific community are staying level-headed.

How many cases of the new variant have been reported in the UK?

Strict rules are in place for travellers entering the UK – even if it took 10 months to implement serious border controls. On Sunday, the Conservative government confirmed that there are now ‘dozens of cases’ linked to the new variant from SA:

  • In total, there are now 77 reported cases of the new variant found in the UK. The first case was reported one month ago.
  • The UK Health Secretary (Matt Hancock) and Chief Scientific Advisor (Patrick Vallance) say this strain ‘can dodge the vaccine’.
  • Pre-departure testing and entry checks are being imposed on travellers from high-risk areas.
  • Hancock claims the new variant ‘is not as well dealt with‘ by current vaccines – however, this is yet to be confirmed by researchers.
  • But Vallance remains optimistic, suggesting that the high antibody response generated by these vaccines ‘can help [the UK] overcome any challenges’ posed by the mutation detected in South Africa.

New variant ‘a challenge’ for vaccines – Hancock

According to Matt Hancock, a failure to tighten border controls ‘would risk the progress made’ by the UK’s vaccination drive. Over six million people have had their first jabs in the UK, and the NHS has been lauded for its early success:

“[Cases of the new variant] are under very close observation, and we have enhanced contact tracing to do everything we possibly can to stop them from spreading. There’s probably (variants) elsewhere that simply haven’t been picked up because the country doesn’t have that genomic sequencing service.”

“In the meantime, we’ve got to have a precautionary principle… so we’ve introduced pre-departure testing and we’ve also introduced checks on everybody to check that that has happened. It is absolutely vital that we protect this country from a variant that is not as well dealt with by the vaccine. We cannot risk the progress we have made.”

Matt Hancock

Mutations ‘to be expected’ – Vallance

Professor Vallance has been keen to stress that a mutating virus doesn’t necessarily spell doom and gloom for the vaccine drive. In fact, the chief government advisor is hopeful that the vaccine response will blunt the impact of the new variant.

“It is the case that both the South African and Brazilian identified variants have more differences in shape – which might mean they are recognised differently by antibodies.”

“I think it is too early to know the effect that will have on the vaccination in people and it is worth remembering that the response of the vaccine is very, very high antibody levels, so they may overcome some of this.”

Patrick Vallance