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Experts have identified a new variant of coronavirus in the UK, it has been announced.
Over 1,000 cases of the virus variant have been identified in England in the past few days, primarily in the south of the country.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday afternoon that the new variant may be responsible for the "faster spread" of Covid-19 in South East England, which is currently experiencing a surge in infections.
"We have identified a new variant of coronavirus, which may be associated with the fastest spread in the south-east of England," he told MPs in the Commons.
"Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.
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"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, and numbers are increasing rapidly."
He added that there's no suggestion this variant causes a more serious illness, or that it won't respond to treatment.
The World Health Organisation has been notified.
The alarming news comes as Mr Hancock confirmed London, as well as parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, will be moving into Tier 3.
He said the government cannot wait until Wednesday daytime, when the first routine review of the tier system was due, after a steep increase in Covid-19 cases.
The move is opposed by many MPs and business leaders and will mean pubs and restaurants will only be able to offer a takeaway service in the normally busy pre-Christmas period.
There have also been calls for the Government to cancel its Christmas bubble scheme which will allow up to three households to mix indoors between December 23 and 27.
Public health experts fear this will undo any good done by placing badly affected areas into Tier 3.
Hospital admissions in England are up 13%, and cases are up 14% on the previous week.
There has been a sharp spike in south Wales, London and in parts of the east and south-east of England.
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