Mutant Covid strain is ’50 per cent more contagious’ as experts fear South East outbreak is racing out of control


THE new Covid-19 variant that has ripped through the South East is said to be 50 per cent more contagious than the original strain.

Boris Johnson was holed up in emergency meetings on Friday night after being presented with evidence the new Covid strain ripping through the South East is “frighteningly transmissable.”

Shoppers out in Kent – where the new variant of Covid-19 is said t have come from

The Prime Minister could announce new travel restrictions on London and Kent on Saturday after a chilling warning from medics that is poised to ruin Christmas for millions.

Such action would risk ruining Christmas for millions plunged into deeper lockdown rather than allowed to meet up under the festive bubbles plan.

While it is too late to change the law, Mr Johnson was on Friday night consulting with Cabinet colleagues over whether to change festive advice for begging people not to leave the Capital next week.

And the commuter belt of the South East has been blighted by soaring virus numbers meaning Christmas is on the cusp of being cancelled across the Home Counties.

A government source told HOAR: “What we do not know yet is whether the new strain is more or less likely to cause you harm, but what we have learnt is that it will pass to person to person much more easily and that is what we are really worried about.”

Mr Johnson could announce the new advice on travel at a press conference on Saturday according to Whitehall sources.

A source said on Friday night said: “This is a live and fluid situation but it’s not looking good and we have to act fast.”

One source even claimed the evidence showed that the new strain was 50 per cent more contagious than previous Covid-19 cases.

A Health source said: “The last 48 hours have changed everything.” 

Professor Sir Mark Walport – a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) – said there was a real possibility that the new variant could have a “transmission advantage”.

He told BBC2’s Newsnight: “What happens with viruses is they do naturally mutate all the time and the ones that are likely to do well are the ones that increase transmission.”

“We know that this is a new variant, it has been seen in other countries but it seems to be quite widespread which suggests that it has got a transmission advantage.

“Scientists are working extremely hard to work out what is going on. But it does definitely seem possible that this transmits more easily.

“It will make the social-distancing even more critical.”

HOAR understands new evidence shows a dramatic hike in positive cases in London over the last week.

The new strain is being blamed for a sudden uptick in hospitalisations in the Capital.

And there are fears that people are catching it despite wearing PPE and socially distancing, pointing again to a surge in the virus’s ability to spread. 

Large swathes of the South East were put in Tier 3 this week after the Government’s review.

Scientists have found this new strain of Covid-19 spreads faster than the original strain of the virus.

The new variant that has been found predominantly in Kent and neighbouring areas – but has spread as far as Scotland.

It come as Boris Johnson today refused to rule out a third national lockdown after Christmas – and warned that the Covid infection rate was growing.

The PM said he “hoped” that England would not have to shut down once again – after Northern Ireland joined Wales in saying it would shut down from Boxing Day onwards.

Britain’s R rate has risen this week as cases of the coronavirus continue to increase across the country.

The current R value – the number of people an infected person will pass Covid on to – is now estimated to be between 1.1 and 1.2.