Watch: Matt Hancock announces COVID ‘mutations of concern’ in Liverpool and Bristol
New coronavirus “mutations of concern” have been identified in Liverpool and Bristol, prompting a surge in testing.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said there have been 32 cases in Liverpool and 11 in Bristol.
He told MPs the government is rolling out door-to-door testing and mobile testing units in the two cities.
It was initially unclear whether Hancock was referring to the South Africa variant of the virus, which he had been speaking about seconds before he announced the 43 “mutations” in Liverpool and Bristol. A Department of Health spokeswoman was unable to provide further details when asked by Yahoo News UK.
Public Health England later clarified the 32 cases in Liverpool were the original strain of coronavirus but with the E484K mutation, while the 11 cases in Bristol were the more transmissible Kent variant also with the E484K mutation.
The E484K mutation may help the virus evade parts of the immune system called antibodies. Experts believe this could make vaccines less effective, although the jabs may still be able to prevent severe disease.
Hancock had said in the House of Commons on Tuesday: “In those areas where this [South Africa] variant has been found – parts of Broxbourne, London, Maidstone and Southport, Walsall and Woking – we’re putting in extra testing and sequencing every positive test.
“Working with local authorities we’re going door to door to test everyone in those areas and mobile testing units will be deployed offering PCR tests to people who have to leave their home for work or other essential reasons.
“We have also seen 11 cases of mutations of concern in Bristol and 32 in Liverpool, and are taking the same approach. In all these areas it is imperative that people must stay at home and only leave home where it is absolutely essential.”
Hancock did not provide any further information about the mutations.
It is common for viruses to mutate and, more often than not, do not cause more severe illness.
Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has also warned of the “100%” probability of more strains entering the UK unless borders are shut completely.
He told Sky News on Tuesday: “The nature of this virus is that it will continue to mutate, as do all viruses, and new strains will emerge and they’ll emerge in many different countries in the world at different times, and you won’t notice that they are spreading until such time as they are quite widespread.”
It’s why Prof Hayward said the UK will not be able to keep borders shut forever and a “sustainable strategy” will be needed in the future to tackle coronavirus mutations.
“Yes, you can think about completely shutting the borders or having quarantine, [but] what’s the endgame in that?”
It comes after 11 people with no links to international travel were identified within the past six days as having tested positive for the South Africa variant, prompting a huge ongoing testing operation in the affected postcode areas of W7, N17, CR4, WS2, ME15, EN10, GU21 and PR9.
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