LONDON — Faced with a new mutation of the coronavirus that may be spreading more quickly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to tighten pandemic restrictions, including rolling back relaxed rules over the holiday period, according to British media reports.

Johnson was expected to announce the measures at a news conference later Saturday after talks with his cabinet. The new mutation, or variants, was first detected in southeast England in September and is becoming more prevalent in new cases.

England’s Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said scientists consider this new strain to move more quickly between people.

Whitty said there is no evidence at this time to suggest the new strain is more deadly or able to elude vaccines designed to defeat it.

“We have alerted the World Health Organization and are continuing to analyze the available data to improve our understanding,” Whitty said.

British scientists have been following the spread of the new variant for nearly three months, eventually seeing it in samples taken from more than 1,100 people, most of whom lived in the southeast of England.


The virus trackers briefed reporters from various media, including the Washington Post, earlier this week.

The scientists said that the new variant was spreading rapidly, suggesting that it was more infectious, more easily transmitted. But they cautioned there was no evidence to suggest the variant was capable of inflicting more illness or death.

Many viruses mutate and evolve, becoming more transmissible, but less deadly.

What surprised them was the sudden prevalence of the variant in samples of mucus and salvia taken from patients.

“This lineage came up quite rapidly,” said Nick Loman, a professor of microbial genomics at the University of Birmingham.

The prevalence of the new mutation was discovered by U.K. Covid-19 Genomics Consortium, which operates government and university laboratories in Britain to track changes to the virus.

The scientists said thousands of mutations of the cornovirus have been detected in samples taken around the world, and that new lineages arise and then usually disappear.

But Loman also said the number of mutations on this new strain was striking. The new variant showed 17 mutations, most in a segment of the virus’s genome that encodes for the spike protein, the protruding structure essential to the pathogen’s ability to bind with the receptor cells in a person who gets exposed and then infected.

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