Matt Hancock to give press conference at 6pm on latest Covid strain and spread

MATT Hancock will give a press conference at 6pm on the latest Covid strain – and the spread of the virus across the country.

Chief Medical officer Chris Whitty and PHE London director Kevin Fenton will appear by his side – hours after Mr Hancock announced London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire would be shoved into Tier 3 from tomorrow night.

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London, parts of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire will move into Tier 3 from 12.01am on Wednesday, he told the Commons today – with the next review due to take place a week later on December 23rd.

This means that people can only see friends and family they don't live with or are in a support bubble with in outdoor public places – but shops, gyms and schools will remain open.

And he revealed a new strain of Covid has been identified across the nation – and many of the cases are down to the new, more infectious variant.

He revealed: "We have identified a new variant of coronavirus which may be associated with the faster spread in South East England.

"It is growing faster than existing variants, with over 1,000 cases.

He told the Commons: "Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants."

There are over 60 areas affected, which is "growing rapidly" and similar strains have been identified in other countries, he said.

He added: "We've seen very sharp exponential rises of the virus across London, Kent parts of Essex and Hertfordshire.

"We must take fast and decisive action."

It comes as:

  • London Mayor Sadiq Khan today revealed there has been a 75 per cent rise in Covid cases
  • Schools in Greenwich and Islington are set to close early – but No10 has said they should stay open
  • Health officials have warned the Tiers will need to be toughened as they have failed to work
  • Covid cases are rising in only two areas in the North, as a fresh surge hits the South
  • Mass testing in 67 areas will be rolled out from this week onwards
  • Mr Hancock also warned people against travelling in and out of Tier 3 areas – even for Christmas shopping

The World Health Organsiation and Public Health England are continuing to look into the new killer strain.

It's likely to still respond to the vaccine, and doesn't mean people will become more seriously ill, he stressed.

"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 said.

The strain was first detected in Kent last week – and it's not yet known if it's a home-grown muttation or has come in from abroad.

And it's understood that two weeks of lab testing is needed for experts to be completely sure that it will still be able to be tackled by the vaccine.

Mr Hancock told MPs that people should be careful about travelling – and avoid travelling in or out of Tier 3 areas.

That includes for Christmas shopping, he stressed.

The Health sec said: "It is recommended that people should minimise travel unless it is necessary in a Tier 3 area and should minimise travel where it is necessary to a Tier 3 area."


Full list of places going into Tier 3 from Wednesday

S &  W Essex:

  • Basildon
  • Brentwood
  • Harlow
  • Epping Forest
  • Castle Point
  • Rochford
  • Braintree & Chelmsford
  • Thurrock and South End on Sea Borough councils 
  • Maldon

Hertfordshire:

  • Broxbourne
  • Heartsmere
  • Watford and the three river local authority

All of London

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