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The highly infectious new coronavirus variant now makes up the majority of new cases in the UK, the Health Secretary said.
The nation's recent surge of Covid-19 cases has been largely due to the variant which may be up to 70% more infectious than its predecessor, Matt Hancock said on Wednesday morning.
"The 'suppress the virus' bit has got a whole lot harder since the new variant really got going over December," he told Sky News.
"Now the majority of the new cases in the UK are the new variant. It is much, much easier to transmit from one person to another."
The new strain's faster transmission is putting the NHS under more pressure than ever, Mr Hancock added.
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"It is absolutely critical that people follow the rules and do everything they can to stop the spread, particularly of the new variant of this virus that transmits so much faster.
"So, the challenge of suppressing the virus has got harder, but thankfully, the cavalry has arrived in terms of not one but two vaccines, and we've got to get them into people's arms as quickly as they're produced."
Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 has mutated several times in the year since it was first discovered in humans.
The new strain, which is much more contagious and believed to affect children more than the original virus, has now been detected in Wales, Scotland, Australia, South Africa and now the US.
Figures from NHS England showed there were 21,787 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8am on Tuesday, compared with 20,426 on Monday, and 18,974 at the first wave peak on April 12.
Meanwhile the number of further lab-confirmed cases recorded in a single day in the UK hit a new record on Tuesday, rising above 50,000 for the first time, to 53,135.
The Government said a further 414 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 71,567.
Mr Hancock is expected to tell the Commons later today that more areas of England will be moved into Tier 4.
As many as 15 million Brits will be affected by the shift, which will reportedly take effect from midnight.
Most of the rest of England would meanwhile be moved up into Tier 3, formally the toughest level of restrictions under the Government's original tier scheme.
Senior ministers will also reportedly meet today to make a decision on delaying the new school term, and are expected to order the nation's secondary schools to remain shut through next week with a staggered return no earlier than January 11.
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