• U.K. officials found a new strain of the coronavirus
  • The variation has led to the rapid rise in cases across southeast England
  • The mutation could potentially make the virus spread more easily

A new strain of the coronavirus has been identified in the southern U.K. and could possibly be fueling the rapid uptick in cases in the region, according to British Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

An initial analysis found that the new variant was growing at a faster rate than previously discovered strains. While the mutation is predominantly seen in southeast England, at least 60 local authorities have more than 1,000 cases, “and the numbers are growing rapidly,” Hancock said Monday.

"Over the last few days, thanks to our world-class genomic capability in the UK, we have identified a new variant of coronavirus, which may be associated with the faster spread in the South of England," the health secretary said. “We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant, but no matter its cause, we have to take swift and decisive action.”

The new COVID-19 strain has led to exponential rises in the number of confirmed cases across London, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire.

Researchers have yet to find evidence that the mutation is more dangerous than other coronavirus strains. However, scientists found that the new variant has lost two amino acids from the spike protein, which could potentially cause it to spread more quickly, according to The Guardian.

The genetic changes to the virus’ spike proteins would not reduce the effectiveness of a coronavirus vaccine as most produce a range of antibodies that would make it hard for the virus to evade all at once. The new strain was also found to carry the same spike receptor that most vaccines currently in development have targeted.

“We need to crack down on it. We don’t know what it’s going to do long term but we can’t take a chance on it. It’s unlikely it’ll make people sicker, but it could make it harder to control,” Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said.

The new coronavirus mutation has prompted health officials to put millions of England’s residents back into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.


Starting Wednesday, London will enter tier three restrictions, which means pubs and restaurants can only provide takeout. The theater district also would be forced to cancel performances, after venues had only just started to welcome back audiences, according to the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

As of Tuesday, the coronavirus pandemic has infected 1.8 million people and killed 64,500 in the United Kingdom, Johns Hopkins University noted.

Shoppers on Oxford Street in London as it was announced that the city will move to the highest level of anti-virus restrictions
Shoppers on Oxford Street in London as it was announced that the city will move to the highest level of anti-virus restrictions AFP / Tolga Akmen