PUBLIC Health England has confirmed the new variant strain of COVID-19 is circulating in Hampshire.

The new variant led to London and parts of southern and eastern England being rushed into the new Tier 4 regime at the weekend, effectively cancelling Christmas plans and imposing measures similar to previous national lockdowns.

After analysis of a new variant of the virus, known as VUI, showed it could be “up to 70 per cent” more transmissible than the initial strain.

VUI has 23 mutations from the initial strain, including changes in genes associated with how the virus binds and enters cells. It is thought to have originated in London or Kent in September.

Public Health England told the Advertiser: “The evidence shows us that the new variant strain of COVID-19 is circulating in Hampshire and that there has been a rapid rise in cases.

“This is why the government took the decision that parts of Hampshire would be one of the areas placed under the new Tier Four restrictions.

“At this stage we have no further information on how many Covid-19 cases in the region apply to the new strain of the virus but the routine test will not classify the strain - that needs lab analysis (which is ongoing).

“We know this strain can spread more quickly which is contributing to the higher infection rates in Hampshire.

“However, the public health advice remains the same for both strains of the virus and is now more important than ever in Hampshire people should continue to follow guidance on social distancing – hands, face, space.”

In the South East, the new strain was responsible for 43 per cent of all new cases in the week of December 9, a 15 percentage point increase from November.

However, Professor Chris Whitty said there was “no current evidence to suggest the new strain causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments”.