UK health authorities identified a second mutated strain of the coronavirus on Wednesday, with Secretary of Health Matt Hancock saying it appears to have arrived in the country from South Africa.
"We've detected two cases of another new variant of coronavirus here in the UK," Hancock, speaking to reporters. "This new variant is highly concerning because it is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the [early reported] new variant that's been discovered in the UK," the minister said.
Hancock said the new cases have been quarantined, as have persons who have come into close contact with them. He instructed people who have recently traveled to South Africa to quarantine.
The minister further indicated that more areas of the country including much of east and southeastern England will be getting 'stay at home' orders in place starting Boxing Day, 26 December, with the restrictions similar to that of a complete lockdown.
Hancock also said he was "delighted" to inform Britons that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine had "submitted its full data package to the [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] for approval," with the proces serving as "the next step toward a decison on the deployment of the vaccine, which is already being manufactured, including here in the UK."
The secretary of health said he does not know how long a complete vaccination roll-out will take.