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London put into Tier 3 and new variant of Covid 'discovered in south east England'

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock says a new variant of Covid has been discovered in south east England.

It is thought to explain the reason for soaring rates across the parts of neighbouring Essex as well as London and Hertfordshire.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Picture by Mark Westley
Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Picture by Mark Westley

The news came as it was confirmed London would be plunged into Tier 3, with the Government deciding it could not wait for the planned review later this week.

It has also been revealed that parts of Essex will be put into Tier 3 while others remain in Tier 2.

Mr Hancock said that scientists had identified a 'new variant' of the virus that appeared to be influencing the spread in the south of England.

But he stressed that it did not seem to be more deadly, and there was likely to be low risk that it will not respond to vaccines.

"We have identified a new variant of coronavirus, which may be associated with the fastest spread in the south-east of England," Mr Hancock said.

"Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants. 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."

The news London was being placed into Tier 3 followed warnings from London Mayor Sadiq Khan that the Tier 3 restrictions – which will involve the closure of pubs and restaurants except for takeaway and delivery services – would have a “catastrophic” economic impact.

Mr Khan had suggested closing schools in the capital early for the Christmas break and returning later in January in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

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