'New variant' of Covid-19 confirmed in Wales

15 December 2020, 07:25 | Updated: 15 December 2020, 08:10

Shoppers pass Christmas market stalls in Cardiff
Shoppers pass Christmas market stalls in Cardiff. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

The Welsh Government has confirmed a new strain of Covid-19 which has been identified in England is already present in Wales.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday the new coronavirus variant was "spreading faster" than the original, and around 1,000 cases had so far been discovered across the south east of England.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “It is natural for a virus to mutate over time and we have seen a range of mutations in Wales.

"In relation to this particular mutation, we have identified 10 confirmed cases and 5 probable cases through sequencing that took place during November - further sequencing is underway and we expect to identify further cases.

Read more: 'We shouldn't panic about new variant of coronavirus,' scientist tells LBC

"Public Health Wales is actively looking for this variant and will be tracking any other Welsh cases as they emerge. Our findings will be feeding into the work being undertaken across the UK.”

Mr Hancock told the Commons yesterday that the World Health Organisation has been notified and that the strain is being studied by Public Health England at Porton Down.

A member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling Group, Dr Michael Tildesley, told LBC that "we shouldn't panic" about the new variant.

"It's not that surprising, we do get these new variants emerging all the time," Dr Tildesley said, "this is what happens with viruses, you get slight mutations.

"This does not necessarily mean the vaccine won't work against this new strain, or even that it's going to be more deadly than the new strain that has been circulating prior to that."

Read more: 'New variant' of coronavirus identified in UK, Hancock says

He continued: "What it does mean is we do need to be careful and it really sends that message home that particularly when we start to vaccinate individuals...that's where we may see mutations to different forms."

Dr Tildesley told Eddie Mair that this news is a reminder that the public must continue to take the necessary precautions.He added that the UK is probably going to be living with Covid for "some time to come."

However, there have been no suggestions that the new variant causes more damage or does not respond to vaccinations.

Mr Hancock said: "I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it's highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine, but it shows we've got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus."

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He added: "I need to tell the House that over the last week, we've seen very sharp, exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.

"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 which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.

"In some parts of these areas the doubling time is around every seven days."