Two cases of a “highly concerning” new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa have been detected in the UK, triggering stringent new quarantine restrictions on anyone arriving from the rainbow nation.
The variant, known as 501.V2, “is yet more transmissible” than the strain wreaking havoc in Britain, according to the health secretary Matt Hancock.
The news came as he announced the expansion of Tier 4 orders to cover 24 million people – 43 per cent of the population of England.
As the number of daily deaths from the virus reached 744 – the highest number since April – and daily cases hit a high of 39,237, Mr Hancock said an extra six million people will be placed under the toughest restrictions almost immediately.
The changes mean the vast majority of the South-East will fall under the toughest tier.
Follow the latest updates below.
Current infections surge worse than first wave, Sage member says
Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust and member of the Government’s scientific advisory body, has tweeted that the current rise in Covid infections is now worse that the first wave of the virus.
He said that the latest mortality figures of 744 deaths lay bare the scale of the ongoing infections as improvements in treatments now mean around a third more of patients are surviving compared to the beginning of the year.
UK 744 Covid deaths highest since 29April. Bear in mind treatment has improved & saved many lives since April (~30% reduction), mortality rates much lower now in people hospitalised. 744 deaths reported. Heartbreaking & tragic. Situation worse than ‘Wave 1″https://t.co/AmYqUhpzNn
— Jeremy Farrar (@JeremyFarrar) December 23, 2020
Sharon Osbourne back home after hospital spell
Sharon Osbourne is back home with rockstar husband Ozzy after testing negative for Covid-19.
The former X Factor judge, 68, revealed earlier this month she had been diagnosed with the virus and was isolating herself from 72-year-old Ozzy.
Now, Osbourne said she has had two negative test results and is “so grateful” to be back home.
She posted a picture of a masked Ozzy sitting next to the couple’s dogs.
Osbourne said: “Got the ok to go home after two negative test results and look at the joy waiting for me!
“So grateful to be home for the holidays and thank you all so much for your love and support. Stay safe and wishing you the happiest of holidays.”
Singapore records first new strain from UK
Singapore has confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus variant found in the United Kingdom, the city-state said, while 11 others who were already in quarantine had returned preliminarily positive results for the new strain.
All the cases, which were imported from Europe, had been placed in 14-day quarantine at dedicated facilities or isolated upon arrival, and their close contacts had been quarantined earlier.
“There is currently no evidence that the B117 strain is circulating in the community,” Singapore’s health ministry said late on Wednesday, referring to the new, potentially more infectious UK strain.
Singapore has been conducting viral genomic sequencing for confirmed Covid-19 cases who arrived from Europe recently.
The strain was found among 31 cases from Europe, who arrived in Singapore between Nov. 17 and Dec. 17 and were confirmed to have Covid-19 this month.
The patient with the new variant came to Singapore from the UK on Dec. 6, had been quarantined on arrival and tested positive on Dec. 8. All her close contacts had been placed on quarantine, and had tested negative at the end of their quarantine period.
The health ministry said it had been able to ring-fence the case so that there was no further transmission.
Sydney residents told to stay home for Christmas
Millions of Sydney residents were asked to limit their mobility over the Christmas holidays, with some families in lockdown and festive gatherings limited to 10 visitors indoors, as officials try to contain a Covid-19 outbreak.
Australia’s most populous city has been virtually isolated from the rest of the country with state border closures or mandatory 14-day quarantine for Sydney arrivals.
“Please limit your mobility,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney on Thursday. “Apart from those close family gatherings, which we have allowed over the Christmas break, we don’t want people moving around unless you absolutely have to.”
The neighbouring state of Victoria on Thursday advised its residents not to “hug or kiss” any visitors who had been in Sydney in the past 10 days.