THE new Covid-19 variant that has ripped through the South East is 70 per cent more contagious than the original strain, Boris Johnson revealed today.
The PM today revealed the "frighteningly transmissable" new variant was spreading rapidly – forcing him to put millions of Brits in Tier 4 lockdown for Christmas.
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Boris today said that the new strain meant that the R rate could be increased by 0.4 as he revealed the festive season was cancelled.
Speaking at a press conference today, the PM said the strain was "spreading very fast".
He said: "There's still much we don't know but it is spreading more quickly.
"There is no evidence however to suggest that it's more lethal or causes more severe illness.
"Equally, there is no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective."
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- Boris Johnson today cancelled Christmas for millions as he put London, the South East and East in Tier 4 lockdown
- The new variant strain of the virus which causes Covid-19 may be up to 70% more transmissible
- All Brits have been told to stay local during the festive season
- Christmas bubbles in Tiers 1, 2 and 3 have been cut to just 24 hours on December 25
- Non-essential shops and gyms in Tier 4 areas must be closed from midnight
- Those in Tier 4 will be able to meet only one other person outdoors – but must not stay overnight from home
- Wales will go into lockdown from tonight – but people can bubble for Christmas day only
Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, today said the UK has informed the World Health Organisation that the new variant coronavirus can spread more rapidly.
He said: "There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is under way to confirm this.
"Given this latest development, it is now more vital than ever that the public continue to take action in their area to reduce transmission."
A Health source said: "The last 48 hours have changed everything."
It is also feared to have first emerged in London and the South East as early as September, Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance said at today's Downing Street briefing.
The strain – called VUI202012/01 – has caused cases to double in a week in the capital as it buckles under the new variant.
The weekly average case rate is also up 66 per cent in two weeks for the rest of the country as the mutant strain tears through Covid hotspots.
Data from the ONS shows that the new variant accounted for 62 per cent of all cases in London on the week commencing December 9, double the 28 per cent reported on the week commencing November 18.
Professor Sir Mark Walport – a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) – said there was a real possibility that the new variant could have a "transmission advantage".
He told BBC2's Newsnight: "What happens with viruses is they do naturally mutate all the time and the ones that are likely to do well are the ones that increase transmission."
"We know that this is a new variant, it has been seen in other countries but it seems to be quite widespread which suggests that it has got a transmission advantage.
"Scientists are working extremely hard to work out what is going on. But it does definitely seem possible that this transmits more easily.
"It will make the social-distancing even more critical."
The Sun understands new evidence shows a dramatic hike in positive cases in London over the last week.
The new strain is being blamed for a sudden uptick in hospitalisations in the Capital.
And there are fears that people are catching it despite wearing PPE and socially distancing, pointing again to a surge in the virus's ability to spread.
Large swathes of the South East were put in Tier 3 this week after the Government's review.
Scientists have found this new strain of Covid-19 spreads faster than the original strain of the virus.
The new variant that has been found predominantly in Kent and neighbouring areas – but has spread as far as Scotland.
The Prime Minister could announce new travel restrictions on London and Kent on Saturday after a chilling warning from medics that is poised to ruin Christmas for millions.
Such action would risk ruining Christmas for millions plunged into deeper lockdown rather than allowed to meet up under the festive bubbles plan.
While it is too late to change the law, Mr Johnson was on Friday night consulting with Cabinet colleagues over whether to change festive advice for begging people not to leave the Capital next week.
And the commuter belt of the South East has been blighted by soaring virus numbers meaning Christmas is on the cusp of being cancelled across the Home Counties.
It come as Boris Johnson today refused to rule out a third national lockdown after Christmas – and warned that the Covid infection rate was growing.
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The PM said he "hoped" that England would not have to shut down once again – after Northern Ireland joined Wales in saying it would shut down from Boxing Day onwards.
Britain's R rate has risen this week as cases of the coronavirus continue to increase across the country.
The current R value – the number of people an infected person will pass Covid on to – is now estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.2.
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