UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

  • The UK has found South Africa's new coronavirus variant in the country, health secretary Matt Hancock told a Wednesday press briefing.
  • "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," Hancock said.
  • Last weekend the British government warned of a mutated coronavirus variant that appears to infect people more easily.
  • Those in the UK who have visited South Africa in the past two weeks must now quarantine for two weeks.
  • It is typical for viruses to mutate, and variants are not necessarily more harmful.
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South Africa's new coronavirus variant has been found in the UK, British health secretary Matt Hancock has announced.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Hancock said that scientists had identified two cases of a new coronavirus variant which he said was even more transmissible than another variant which is currently spreading rapidly through England.

Both cases of the second variant were close contacts of people who had recently returned from South Africa.

"We've detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK," Hancock said.

READ | New SA Covid variant: Vaccines should work, but further mutation could pose threat

"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," he added.

But in a tweet, Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation & Sequencing Platform (KRISP), objected against the UK's description of the local variant as "more transmissible".

KRISP coordinates the nationwide analysis of genetic samples of the virus, and De Oliveira presented the findings on South Africa's new variant during a government briefing last week.

In a subsequent tweet, De Oliveira said that both the new South African and UK variants "seem very transmissible".

It is typical for viruses to mutate, and variants are not necessarily more harmful or deadly.

READ | Here’s what you need to know about the new coronavirus variant, now confirmed in SA

Those in the UK who have visited the country in the past two weeks must quarantine for two weeks. The UK has also placed immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa.

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Additional reporting by Business Insider SA.