Two cases of another new strain of COVID-19 linked to South Africa have been identified in the United Kingdom, Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed.
Like the UK variant identified earlier, the new variant of the novel coronavirus is also driving a massive resurgence of the disease in South Africa, with experts warning the country is probably facing a much larger second wave.
"Both [cases of the new variant] are contacts of cases who have travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks," Hancock said, addressing a briefing from 10 Downing Street.
"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 said.
The minister confirmed immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa and the government's urgent message being for anyone who has been in South Africa or been in contact with someone linked with the country in the last fortnight to immediately quarantine.
Analysis on the new mutation and its trajectory in the UK is meanwhile being analysed by scientific experts at Porton Down, the country's specialist laboratory in south west England.
As a result, even more parts of the UK are set to be put under the strictest level of lockdown after ministers held talks earlier on Wednesday following the UK registering 36,804 positive coronavirus cases, the largest daily number of infections recorded at any time during the pandemic.
Millions more in the east and south-east England will be placed into the Tier 4 highest alert level from December 26, celebrated as Boxing Day the day after Christmas, as the new UK variant of coronavirus continues to show high transmissibility.
The minister also revealed that the Oxford University vaccine being produced by AstraZeneca has submitted its full data package for regulatory approval, even as the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine rollout continues.
"I know how hard 2020 has been for everybody. But we mustn't give up now we know that we can control this virus we know we can get through this together, I know from the bottom of my heart, that there are brighter skies ahead," he said.
The briefing comes as the new variant identified in the UK last week, named VUI-202012/01 and with much higher transmissibility, led to several countries including India cutting off transport links with the UK in an effort to try and contain its spread outside Britain.