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AFP

Even as the world deals with a sudden turn in coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-related developments due to the identification of a new virus strain in the United Kingdom (UK), British Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday sent experts on overdrive by declaring that yet another (in addition to the earlier variant) strain of the coronavirus has been detected.

Hancock said that the new coronavirus strain that was identified today is even more transmissible than the first mutant strain.

The latest coronavirus strain was identified to have originated from South Africa.

Like the UK variant identified earlier, the new variant of the novel coronavirus is also driving a massive resurgence of the disease in South Africa, with experts warning the country is probably facing a much larger second wave.

CNBC International journalist Joumanna Bercetche took to her official handle on Twitter to inform regarding the new strain.

“Thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we’ve detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK,” Hancock was quoted by news agency Reuters as saying, during a media briefing in London on this day, “Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.”

PTI reported the British Health Secretary was making the Tier 4 lockdown announcement at 10 Downing Street, where he said, "Anyone who has been in South Africa during the last fortnight or anyone who were in close contact with anyone in South Africa must be quarantined immediately."

He added,"all travellers from South Africa in the past two weeks must isolate immediately due to the new variant which has been identified."

Hancock continued: "This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK."

UK will be immmediately imposing restrictions on travel from South Africa, the minister said.

Analysis on the new mutation and its trajectory in the UK is meanwhile being analysed by scientific experts at Porton Down, the country's specialist laboratory in south-west England.

As a result, even more parts of the UK are set to be put under the strictest level of lockdown after ministers held talks earlier on Wednesday following the UK registering 36,804 positive coronavirus cases, the largest daily number of infections recorded at any time during the pandemic.

Millions more in the east and south-east England will be placed into the Tier 4 highest alert level from December 26, celebrated as Boxing Day the day after Christmas, as the new UK variant of coronavirus continues to show high transmissibility.

The minister also revealed that the Oxford University vaccine being produced by AstraZeneca has submitted its full data package for regulatory approval, even as the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine rollout continues.

"I know how hard 2020 has been for everybody. But we mustn't give up now we know that we can control this virus we know we can get through this together. I know from the bottom of my heart, that there are brighter skies ahead," he said.

The briefing comes as the new variant identified in the UK last week, named VUI-202012/01 and with much higher transmissibility, led to several countries including India cutting off transport links with the UK in an effort to try and contain its spread outside Britain.

(With inputs from agencies)

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