AT LEAST 12 different strains of coronavirus were spreading through the UK in March – including one which has only ever been found in Britain, a SAGE report found.
Scientists analysed the genomes of the deadly virus in 260 infected patients across the country.
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They discovered at least 12 strains of coronavirus, one of which has only ever been found in the UK – meaning it mutated on British soil.
But the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium admitted the "under-sampling in the UK and elsewhere means the number of independent introductions of Covid-19 is very likely substantially higher".
The scientists concluded most of the strains came from Italy and Spain, the worst-hit countries in the world at the time the research was carried out.
It found strains had also come from China, the US and Australia.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said today: "One of the things it looks like very clearly, is early in March the UK got many many different imports of virus from many different places – and those places were particularly from Europeans countries with outbreaks."
There is no indication any of strains are more potent or infectious than another.
Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, told the Daily Mail: "There are a number of issues with these strains – are they likely to cause different severity of disease? Are they likely to be more infectious? And are they capable of invalidating vaccines?
"The answer to all three of these is we have no idea. There is no suggestion from this study – or any other that I have read – that show these strains are more virulent or infectious that one another.
"But it is plausible that one strain could mutate to the point where people with antibodies to an older strain are no longer immune to it."
Speaking to MPs today, Sir Patrick said he was "optimistic" another peak can be avoided if "testing, tracking and tracing" works and the public stick to social distancing.
It comes as more people have now died from coronavirus in the UK than any other country in Europe.
There were a further 693 confirmed Covid-19 deaths recorded nationwide today, taking the grim total to 29,427 – higher than Italy.
Addressing the Commons' Health and Social Care Committee, Sir Patrick said fewer than one in six Brits have so far been infected with coronavirus.
The chief scientific adviser said ten per cent of Londoners and four per cent of those outside the capital had the bug by early April.
But he now expects the number of Brits testing positive for antibodies – showing they have had the virus and recovered – to be no higher than the "mid-teens".
Sir Patrick said evidence suggests the vast majority of people who have had the infection develop "some degree of protection".
And he said this would likely last for "one, two, three years".
He also admitted scaling up testing earlier could have helped to save lives.
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