The UK's Health Secretary on Wednesday revealed that a second "more contagious" variant of coronavirus linked to South Africa has been detected in the nation.
Matt Hancock told journalists that the two cases of the new variant were "contacts of cases who have travelled" from the nation "over the past few weeks."
"And in many parts of the country, this virus is under control. Just as we've got a tiered system in place that was able to control this virus, we've discovered a new, more contagious virus, a variant that is spreading at a dangerous rate and I know that the vast majority of people watching today and across the country understand what we need to do together to get through this and so today we're announcing further action within the tiering system and also some further progress on vaccines and on testing," he said.
"Cases have risen 57% in the last week. The average COVID(-19) hospital admissions are 1,909 a day, that's the highest figure since mid-April. There are 18,943 people in hospital with coronavirus right now. That's almost as many as there were at the peak, and yesterday, there were 691 deaths reported. That's 691 people who have died just before Christmas," he added.
He said that that both cases and their contacts were self-isolating.
The Health Secretary also urged anyone who has travelled to the UK from South Africa in the past two weeks to self-isolate.
"And as part of our surveillance and thanks to the impressive genomic capability of the South Africans, we've detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK. Both are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks. The Chief Scientific Adviser and the Chief Medical Officer and others met their South African counterparts over the last day and we are incredibly grateful to the South African government for the rigor of their science and the openness and the transparency with which they have rightly acted, as we did when we discovered a new variant here. This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that has been discovered in the UK," the UK Health Secretary said.
During the news conference in London, Hancock also announced a change in restrictions for several areas, mainly in the east and south east of England.
Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire are among the regions which will be placed into England's highest tier of coronavirus restrictions from 26 December.