Covid 'variant of concern' first identified in Brazil discovered in UK
Video report by ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery
The first UK cases of the Covid 'variant of concern' first detected in Brazil have been discovered.
Up to six cases of the Manaus variant of coronavirus, a new strain that may spread more rapidly and may respond less well to existing vaccines, have been identified in Britain.
Three cases have been found in England and three in Scotland, it emerged on Sunday.
The first two cases of the P.1 strain are from one household in South Gloucestershire with a history of travel to Brazil but the third is not linked.
The whereabouts of that individual is unknown, as PHE says the person did not complete their test registration card so follow-up details are unavailable.
Officials are asking anyone who took a test on February 12 or 13 and who has not received a result or has an uncompleted test registration card to come forward immediately, in the hope of identifying the third English case.
A government spokesperson said: “Very occasionally we do have a test result where the individual has not provided their details.
"Every effort is underway to locate this person and in the meantime it is important people come forward for testing, continue to follow the restrictions in place and stay at home whenever possible.”
Surge testing will begin in South Gloucestershire from Monday for residents who live in five postcode areas:
People who are aged over 16 and do not have symptoms of Covid-19 and people who travel into the five postcode areas for work or to visit someone they are in a support bubble with are invited to book a test.
PHE and NHS Test and Trace are also contacting the passengers on Swiss Air flight, LX318 travelling from Sao Paulo, through Zurich, and landing in London Heathrow on February 10.
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The three Scottish cases are residents who returned to north-east Scotland from Brazil, via Paris and London, and subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, but are not thought to be linked to the cases in England.
Officials are contacting the other passengers who were on the same flight from London to Aberdeen.
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The identification of this new variant is a concern but we are taking every possible precaution.
“This new variant demonstrates how serious Covid is and reinforces the need to minimise the spread of the virus.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE’s strategic response director for Covid-19, said: “We have identified these cases thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are finding more variants and mutations than many other countries and are therefore able to take action quickly.
“The important thing to remember is that Covid-19, no matter what variant it is, spreads in the same way. That means the measures to stop it spreading do not change.”
People in South Gloucestershire who are invited to come forward and take a test are being urged to do so.
“We are keen that all South Gloucestershire residents in the postcode areas identified take part in this testing, which will help us to identify positive cases and prompt self-isolation, which helps to break the chain of transmission,” Sara Blackmore, director of Public Health at South Gloucestershire Council, said.
Drive-in surge testing sites will be open at Stoke Gifford Parkway Park & Ride, as well as The Mall Coach Park at The Mall Cribbs Causeway from 9am on Monday.
People will be able to collect tests from Little Stoke Community Centre and Patchway Community Centre from Monday.
Two additional sites will open at Bradley Stoke Jubilee Centre and Baileys Court Activity Centre from Tuesday.
Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said the detection of the Manaus variant in the UK “shows the weaknesses in the government’s Covid border measures”.
The Labour MP said: "The Brazil variant was first identified a month before one of these cases was brought in on February 10 and many weeks after the Prime Minister was warned that indirect flights were a problem, yet the government delayed putting stronger measures in place.
“Even now only 1% of travellers are covered by hotel quarantine, there is no testing on arrival and enforcement of home quarantine is still minimal, so there are still too many holes in the system.
“We need to know urgently how all these cases have arrived in the country and why they weren’t prevented or picked up on arrival so that lessons can be quickly learnt and policies changed to protect the vaccine programme from further cases arriving.”
The World Health Organisation has been informed of the cases, which have been designated “of concern” as it shares key mutations with the variant detected in South Africa.
More work is needed but there are concerns that the existing vaccines may be less effective against the Manaus strain.
The P.1 variant has been designated 'of concern' as it shares some mutations with the contagious South African strain.