Health Sec: New Covid variant of 'huge international concern'

26 November 2021, 11:07 | Updated: 26 November 2021, 15:00

By Asher McShane

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs today that a newly identified Covid-19 variant is of "huge international concern" as it could be more transmissible than other variants and more resistant to approved vaccines.

He said it "is highly likely" that the B.1.1.529 variant "has now spread to other countries".

Mr Javid said there are no UK cases of the new coronavirus variant, found in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel, but that the Government is concerned it could "pose a substantial risk to public health".

Mr Javid went on: "We are concerned that this new variant may pose substantial risk to public health.

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"The variant has an unusual large number of mutations. Yesterday the UK Health Security Agency classified B.1.1.529 as a new variant under investigation and the very technical group has designated it as a variant under investigation with very high priority."

The Health Secretary added early indications show the current vaccines "may be less effective against it".

He added that there are "very live" discussions over the prospect of adding further countries to the red list following the emergence of a new variant of the virus which causes Covid-19.

The Health Secretary told MPs: "We are going primarily by where the new variant has been detected at this point, and that's been confirmed in two countries in southern Africa - South Africa and Botswana.

"We've included the four other countries I mentioned earlier in southern Africa as a precaution."

He added: "We are keeping this under review and there's very live discussions going on about whether we should and when we might add further countries, and we won't hesitate to act if we need to do so."

Mr Javid confirmed the Government is still following Plan A for managing Covid-19 this autumn and winter but warned that "if we need to go further, we will".