Monday 25 January 2021 5:52 pm

Matt Hancock announces 'enhanced contact tracing' for Covid mutation infections

The UK has launched an “enhanced” contact tracing system for people infected with any of the new coronavirus variants, Matt Hancock announced today.

All those found infected with the South African coronavirus variant in UK have been subject to enhanced scrutiny, the health secretary announced, as Britain attempts to curb the spread of new mutations.

Read more: Dido Harding defends £1,000-a-day consultants for Test and Trace

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Hancock said those infected with new variants will be given “all the support possible” to ensure they self-isolate, including being subject to frequent check-ups.

He added that there were currently “very, very small numbers” of the South African variant in the UK “in the scheme of things”. The health secretary on Sunday said 77 positive infections of the new strain have so far been identified in Britain.

Meanwhile, nine cases of a new Brazilian. variant have been identified in the UK.

Dr Susan Hopkins, epidemiologist at Public Health England, added that four UK laboratories are studying how effective current vaccines are against a batch of new variants.

The consensus view is that current jabs work against the UK variant first identified in Kent, while studies have only just begun on the South Africa variant, Hopkins said. 

It is not yet clear whether current vaccines will prove successful against the new strain first identified in Brazil.

However, Moderna today said its Covid vaccine appeared to be effective against both the UK and South African coronavirus strains.

But the US biotech firm said it would launch trials of a new vaccine specially suited to the South African variant, after studies showed it proved up to six times more resilient against the jab.

Ministers have faced mounting pressure in recent weeks to provide more clinical evidence on new coronavirus mutations, over fears they may present problems for the UK’s ambitious vaccination programme.

The Prime Minister warned on Friday there is “some evidence” that the new Covid variant first identified in the UK is more deadly than other strains.

The new Covid strain, known as the “UK variant” in other parts of the world, may carry a 30 per cent increase in fatality than the original variant, Boris Johnson said.

For people in their 60s, this would mean around 13 out of 1,000 infected with the new variant would die, compared with 10 out of 1,000 with the old variant, data from Nervtag showed.

Read more: Astrazeneca delays vaccine delivery to EU by ’60 per cent’

Johnson warned that the new strain was applying “intense pressure” on the NHS as a result, with the number of patients in hospital with Covid 78 per cent higher than in the peak of the first wave.

The government has set a target of mid-February to vaccinate the most vulnerable members of the population. So far, almost 6.6m doses have been handed out, while around three-quarters of over-80s have now been immunised.