A SCIENTIST who revealed a Brazilian strain of Covid has already been detected in the UK has now said the variant picked up here is not the one "of concern".
Prof Wendy Barclay from Imperial College London said there are "two different types of Brazilian variant and one of them has been detected and one of them has not".
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She later clarified it is not thought to be the 'super Brazilian strain' that was identified in travellers in Japan – prompting fears here.
Boris Johnson revealed earlier this week that experts are investigating the new 'super mutation' from the South American nation, following the news from Japan.
A No 10 spokesman said today: “PHE are working hard to identify any cases that may be in the UK. You can expect an update from them later.”
It comes as:
- Boris Johnson 'was warned to lift lockdown or face a leadership challenge'
- Fears were growing that the new mutant strain of the virus from Brazil could make vaccines less effective
- A travel ban was slapped on Portugal and all of South America to stop the spread of the new variant
- The national shutdown could continue in some form until autumn, Professor Lockdown claimed
- Rishi Sunak 'refused to extend the stamp duty holiday beyond the end of March'
Prof Barclay, who is heading up the G2P-UK National Virology Consortium – a project studying the effects of new mutations, said: "There are two different types of Brazilian variants and one of them has been detected and one of them has not."
She added: "In the databases, if you search the sequences, you will see that there is some evidence for variants from around the world, and I believe including the Brazilian one, which probably was introduced some time ago.
"And that will be being traced very carefully.
Mutations found in Kent and South Africa raised concerns before Christmas, with the UK variant responsible for a sharp rise in cases.
The variant shares similarities with both the South African strain of the virus and the UK mutation, which could make it easier to spread.
Downing Street has said evidence currently suggests that the new Brazilian variant may also be more transmissible – but does not affect vaccines.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that scientists at the Government's Porton Down research facility are investigating the new strain.
"As with some of the other variants we've seen, the Kent variant and the South Africa variant, evidence does suggest that it may be more transmissible," he added.
"More research is required to confirm this and Porton Down will conduct that research but current evidence does not suggest that the strain causes any higher mortality rate or that it affects the vaccines or treatments."
Earlier today, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said "he is not aware" of any cases of the Brazilian variant in the UK and there haven't been any flights from the country in the past week.
He was being interviewed after travellers from across South America – as well as Panama and Portugal – were banned from entering the country from 4am today.
When asked whether the variant had spread to Britain, Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4: "Not as far as we are aware, I think, at this stage.
"There haven't been any flights that I can see from the last week from Brazil, for example."
Professor Andrew Hayward, Sage member and director of the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health care, also said he was not aware of any cases of the variant making it to the UK.
But he added: "I wouldn't take that as gospel."
The ban, which covers Portugal because of its strong travel links with Brazil, also extended to parts of Central America.
Cases in Brazil have surged as deaths doubled and hospitals have started to run out of oxygen.
It comes amid fears the strain could reinfect those who have already fought off Covid after a nurse in Brazil was struck down with the new variant in October – five months after she recovered from an older strain of Covid-19.
Dr Mike Tildesley, an epimeiologist who advises the Government on its scientific pandemic influenza group said the travel ban was "behind the curve" but that it should minimise the risk of the variant spreading to the UK.
"We always have this issue with travel bans of course, that we're always a little bit behind the curve," Dr Tildesley told BBC Breakfast.
"My understanding is that there haven't really been any flights coming from Brazil for about the past week, so hopefully the immediate travel ban should really minimise the risk."
But the epidemiologist also tried to soothe fears the variant could throw the vaccine program into disarray if it did spread to the UK.
He said scientists "don't believe there is anything to worry about" in terms of its impact on the vaccine.
But the higher transmissibility of the strain could mean "people potentially might end up developing severe symptoms more rapidly which could cause more issues with our health service".
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said yesterday experiments were already underway to determine if there was a threat to the vaccine.
He admitted "we don't know for sure" if the vaccines being rolled out will be effective against the strains from Brazil and South Africa.
He told ITV's Peston: “There’s a bit more of a risk that this might make a change to the way the immune system recognizes it but we don’t know.
"Those experiments are underway,” Sir Patrick said.
The new variant of the virus which emerged in Kent at the end of last year triggered the national lockdown as case numbers quickly spiralled out of control.
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