UK Health Ministry Says New COVID-19 Variant Discovered in Britain

British Health Minister Matt Hancock said Monday that a new variant of COVID-19 has been identified in southern Britain, which could explain why infection levels in that area have increased faster than in other areas of the country. Speaking to Parliament, Hancock said the variant was identified in more than a thousand cases of the virus, mostly in the south of the country, but in a total of about 60 different areas. He said similar variants have been identified in other countries, and the British government has alerted the World Health Organization.   The health minister was quick to add there was nothing to suggest this new variant is more virulent or would be resistant to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that is being distributed in Britain. But he said it was even more reason for people to remain vigilant and follow COVID-19 guidelines to make sure the virus does not spread.  Hancock made the announcement as he introduced new COVID-19 restrictions imposed on London and the immediate surrounding area where new infections have been rising “exponentially.”  He said London was moving into the “Tier 3: Very High Alert level.” Under these restrictions, people can only see friends and family who live outside their household in outdoor public places and “in line with the rule of six,” meaning groups must be six people or fewer.  Hancock said restaurants and other hospitality businesses can be open for take-out and deliver only, and residents are advised to avoid unnecessary travel outside their immediate area.

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