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UK Health Secretary says new virus strain is ‘out of control’

LONDON: British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday that the government has imposed a strict Christmas lockdown in London and south-east England because a new strain of the coronavirus is "out of control".

Mr Hancock warned that the strict measures could stay in place until the virus vaccine is fully rolled out.

"We acted very quickly and decisively," he told Sky News, justifying the stay-home order and closure of non-essential shops affecting around a third of England's population.

"Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that millions must cancel Christmas plans and stay home because the new strain was spreading far more quickly.

Mr Hancock told Sky News that the situation was "deadly serious".

"It is going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out," he said, adding: "This is what we face over the next couple of months."

It emerged that scientists first discovered the new variant in a patient in September.

Public Health England's Susan Hopkins told Sky News that the agency notified the government on Friday when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain.

She confirmed the figure given by Mr Johnson that the new virus strain could be 70 per cent more transmissible while saying this was an initial figure.

"I think 70 per cent looks like a good number to land on at the moment," she said.

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Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Saturday it was in close contact with British officials over a new Covid-19 virus variant.

Said WHO in a tweet: "They'll continue to share info and results of their analysis and ongoing studies. We'll update Member States and the public as we learn more about the characteristics of this virus variant and any implication." - AFP, REUTERS

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