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

14 December 2020, 16:38

By Fiona Jones

"We shouldn't panic about the new variant of coronavirus," pandemic expert Dr Michael Tildesley tells LBC, after Health Secretary announced this new finding.

A "new variant" of coronavirus has been identified in the UK which "may be associated with the faster spread in the South East", Matt Hancock has told MPs.

The health secretary told the Commons 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."

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."

In a statement to MPs on Monday, Mr Hancock said: "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 minister said the numbers of the new variant of coronavirus "are increasing rapidly", telling the Commons: "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."

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."

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."