Thank you for contacting me about the new variants of COVID-19.
It is entirely normal for viruses to evolve, and new variants come and go over time. The Government has an advisory group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (NERVTAG) which has been analysing the recent new variants, including those in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
While I am encouraged there is no evidence to suggest that the variants cause more severe illness or higher mortality, or that the vaccine would be any less effective against them, it does appear that all three new variants can be passed on much more easily. Early analysis of the UK variant suggests that may be up to 70 percent more transmittable.
The recent rapid spread of the coronavirus across the UK has been driven by the new UK variant and that is why the Prime Minister had to act by placing the country under a new national lockdown. This is of course disappointing after all the hard work of 2020, but this action is necessary to protect our NHS and save potentially many thousands of lives. Action is also being taken to prevent the South African and Brazilian variants from spreading to the UK by imposing travel restrictions.
Data on all of the new variants continues to emerge and must be subject to ongoing review. I am encouraged that the UK has by far the best genomic sequencing ability in the world, which means we are better able to identify new strains like this than any other country. I understand that our findings so far have been submitted to the World Health Organisation and that the Government will continue this transparency as more data becomes available.
In response to new evidence highlighting the likely spread of new coronavirus variants in South America, and to countries with strong travel links with Brazil, entry to the UK is now banned for passengers arriving from destinations across South (and Central) America, Portugal, Panama and Cape Verde. This urgent action to reduce the risk of imports of the variants is welcome and I will be following any developments closely.
I will continue to follow the evidence as it emerges.