Leading Scientist Says One Of Two Brazilian Coronavirus Variants Has Already Been Detected In The UK
Travel to the UK from 15 South American countries has been banned
One of two Brazilian coronavirus variants has already been detected in the UK, according to a leading virologist advising the government.
Professor Wendy Barclay, who leads the G2P-UK National Virus Consortium, said the team had identified coronavirus cases in the UK caused by one of two variants believed to have originated in the South American country.
But she clarified the strain was not the "variant of concern" which is believed to have mutated to be more infectious.
The panel of experts tasked with investigating new mutations said they believe the newer variant is different to those first identified in the UK and South Africa in recent months, but said it was likely making the virus more transmittable.
"There are two different types of the Brazilian variant and one of them has been detected and one of them has not", Professor Barclay said.
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."
She later added: "The new Brazilian variant of concern, that was picked up in travellers going to Japan, has not been detected in the UK.
"Other variants that may have originated from Brazil have been previously found."
Scientists have suggested that none of the new variants had led to more severe illness, but Professor Barclay said studies had suggested the more worrying Brazil variant "might impact the way that some people's antibodies can see the virus".
She suggested this change could mean there was a possibility of reinfections, which could have "big implications" but said further research was still being conducted.
The announcement comes just hours after a travel ban was imposed on people entering from 15 South American countries and Portugal into the UK.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the "urgent decision" would see most arrivals banned, with British and Irish nationals and those with British residence rights asked to self-isolate for ten days.
"Travel from Portugal to the UK will also be suspended given its strong travel links with Brazil – acting as another way to reduce the risk of importing infections. However, there is an exemption for hauliers travelling from Portugal (only), to allow transport of essential goods," he said on Thursday.
Speaking to Radio 4 Today's programme earlier today, Mr Shapps said he hoped the "precautionary" measure would decrease the chances of the latest variant arriving in the UK, adding "as far as we are aware" there were no confirmed cases of the latest mutation.
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