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Health Ministry Calls Urgent Meeting Today to Discuss Mutated, 'Out of Control' Coronavirus Strain in UK

Pedestrians walk past a Covid-19 information display board warning people that 'Coronavirus cases are very high in London', in Piccadilly Circus, London on December 19, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

Pedestrians walk past a Covid-19 information display board warning people that 'Coronavirus cases are very high in London', in Piccadilly Circus, London on December 19, 2020. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

A number of European countries have banned flights from the UK as the British government warned that the potent new strain of the virus was "out of control" and imposed a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown from Sunday.

The Union health ministry has called an urgent meeting of its Joint Monitoring Group on Monday to discuss the emergence of a mutated variant of the coronavirus in the UK, which has led to a surge in the infection rate there. A number of European countries have banned flights from the UK as the British government warned that the potent new strain of the virus was “out of control” and imposed a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown from Sunday.

“The Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) chaired by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) will hold a meeting on Monday morning to discuss the issue of the mutated variant of the coronavirus reported from the UK. WHO’s India representative Dr Roderico H Ofrin, who is also a member of the JMG, is likely to participate in the meeting,” news agency PTI quoted a source as saying.

A surge in the infection rate caused by the new variant of the coronavirus has led to millions entering a stringent new stay-at-home lockdown in the UK from Sunday, with non-essential shops and businesses now closed.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new rules at a briefing from 10 Downing Street on Saturday evening, which means a planned five-day Christmas bubble of relaxed rules has been cancelled in favour of a new Tier 4 level to the current three-tier lockdown system to try and control the surge in infections being caused by the new mutation of the deadly virus. “It seems that the spread is now being driven by the new variant of the virus,” Johnson said.

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“We have alerted the World Health Organisation and are continuing to analyse the available data to improve our understanding, said Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England. There is no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments although urgent work is underway to confirm this,” he said.

“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control," UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News after Johnson U-turned on his previously stated policy of easing containment measures over the festive season.

Scientists first discovered the new variant — which they believe is 70 percent more transmissible — in a patient in September. And Public Health England notified the government on Friday when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain.

But Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty pointed out that while the new strain was greatly more infectious, “there is no current evidence to suggest (it) causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is underway to confirm this."

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first published:December 20, 2020, 21:29 IST