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Covid UK: Travellers from hotspots walk through airports unchecked

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Britain’s border defence against coronavirus was branded an ‘absolute joke’ today as MailOnline can reveal a traveller from variant-hit South Africa walked out of Heathrow without any checks after ministers delayed forcing people to get a negative Covid-19 test before entering Britain until Monday.

Thousands of people are still arriving in the UK every day through airports with more coming in through ports and on Eurostar trains without any requirement to prove they don’t have Covid-19.

Government Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has also warned a new Brazillian strain could be more resistant to our vaccines as ministers meet today to consider banning all travellers from South America despite knowing about the issues for days. 

Sean Meade told MailOnline that he had a Covid test on Monday in Durban, South Africa, and carried a copy of his negative result expecting that he would be asked for it when arriving at Heathrow via Paris because he was coming from a country that has a dangerous variant of the virus. 

Expressing his shock after being waved through arrivals this morning he told MailOnline said: ‘The rest of the world seems to be taking it much more seriously than Britain. It’s disgraceful and dangerous that no checks are being carried on passengers arriving at Heathrow. I wasn’t even asked about my locator form, I just walked out of the airport quicker than I have ever done’.

Mr Meade, 26, who works in a care home in Canterbury said that he had spent the past six weeks in South Africa visiting family.  He added: ‘I’ve come from a country that has a variant of the virus and where cases are high, but nobody even checked to see if I was negative. I got very confused about the rules. I actually thought that you had to show proof that you have got the all clear starting from Thursday and now I’ve just discovered that the new rule doesn’t start until Monday.’

Boris Johnson’s Government and leaving the UK at ‘serious risk’ today as new rules requiring arrivals to have tested negative for coronavirus were delayed.

The border rules were announced last week and had been due to come into force tomorrow, with travellers needing to have been screened within the previous 72 hours. However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced late last night that is being pushed back to Monday to give people ‘time to prepare’.

Government Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has also warned a new Brazillian strain could be more resistant to our vaccines as ministers meet today to consider banning all travellers from South America despite knowing about the issues for days.

Grant Randall travels between Britain and France regularly with a team of engineers to install fire, security and data networks.

Speaking on a Eurostar train to Gard du Nord this afternoon he said: ‘I work between London and Paris and have been waiting to travel to see what tests are needed to return. Being pushed back leaves me travelling to Paris with my engineers with no plan on place on how to return with bow list of accepted tests. It’s an absolute joke’.

The chaos at Britain’s open borders came as:  

  • Travellers from the whole of South America ‘will be banned from entering UK from TODAY’ – but scientist says it may already be too late as warnings started DAYS ago and new Brazilian variant ‘could already be in Britain’; 
  • Priti Patel today warned police are ready to tackle people flouting lockdown rules but sows confusion as she claims people should exercise ALONE despite lockdown rules allowing them to work out with one person from another household;
  • Previous coronavirus infection gives people immunity for five months – MORE than the Oxford vaccine, PHE study finds;
  • Boots and Superdrug have started dishing out coronavirus vaccines this morning after No10 finally turned to the high street to deliver its lockdown-ending promise of immunising almost 14million people by mid-February. 
Sean Meade (pictured) told MailOnline that he had a Covid test on Monday in Durban and carried a copy of his negative result expecting that he would be asked for it when arriving at Heathrow via Paris - but nobody bothered

Sean Meade (pictured) told MailOnline that he had a Covid test on Monday in Durban and carried a copy of his negative result expecting that he would be asked for it when arriving at Heathrow via Paris – but nobody bothered

Grant Randall travels between Britain and France regularly with a team of engineers to install fire, security and data networks and told MailOnline the delays in implementing the rules are an 'absolute joke'

Grant Randall travels between Britain and France regularly with a team of engineers to install fire, security and data networks and told MailOnline the delays in implementing the rules are an ‘absolute joke’

Boris Johnson's Government and leaving the UK at 'serious risk' today as new rules requiring arrivals to have tested negative for coronavirus were delayed

Boris Johnson’s Government and leaving the UK at ‘serious risk’ today as new rules requiring arrivals to have tested negative for coronavirus were delayed

Patrick Vallance warns new Brazilian strain COULD be more resistant to our vaccines as ministers meet TODAY to consider banning all travellers from South America 

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the UK Government, said he couldn't rule out the idea that the Brazilian variant might have evolved to make vaccines less effective

Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the UK Government, said he couldn’t rule out the idea that the Brazilian variant might have evolved to make vaccines less effective

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, has said it is possible that the Brazilian Covid variant could make vaccines less effective.

The Government’s top scientist said he thinks it is unlikely the mutated strain of the virus will have evolved to get past the immune system but ‘we don’t know for sure’.

No10 looks set to finally ban flights from Brazil and potentially the whole of South America today, days after scientists sounded the alarm about the mutation.

This could include other countries such as Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia and also apply to travellers arriving indirectly from Europe or the US who have been in South America within the last 10 days. This would mirror beefed-up restrictions brought in for South Africa due to its mutant Covid strain.

The Prime Minister yesterday admitted officials were ‘concerned’ about the variant and claimed the Government was ‘taking steps’ to ensure it doesn’t spread in Britain.

Brazil has already banned travellers from the UK, starting on December 25, because of the variant that emerged here. Airlines appear to have taken matters into their own hands, with all five flights scheduled between Brazil and Heathrow cancelled, and none due from other UK airports.

Public Health England (PHE) said it hasn’t picked up any cases of the variant yet, but wouldn’t rule out its already being in Britain. One expert told MailOnline it is ‘entirely possible’ it has spread here already but likely not in large numbers.

Experts and politicians have raised fears that the Kent and South African mutations — which are very similar to the Brazilian strain — could make vaccines less effective. Sir Patrick last night revealed SAGE doesn’t know whether or not jabs will work against the variant.

But top scientists studying the constantly mutating SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, insist jabs currently being rolled-out are ‘still likely to be effective’.

Pfizer has already tested its own vaccine against the variants that emerged in Kent and South Africa and said that the jab appeared to work just as well, despite the mutations.

The mutated variant of coronavirus was discovered in Japan last week in four people who had arrived on a flight from Brazil. It was first detected in Brazil — where cases are spiralling rapidly — in October.  

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It came at the Government was accused of ‘dithering’ as it failed to ban all flights from Brazil where another dangerous variant has been detected. A ban on flights from all of South America and parts of Central America is now expected this afternoon.  

Sean Meade arrived at Heathrow via Paris, having initially boarded an Air France flight in Johannesburg.

He said: ‘In South Africa, Air France were very strict about the rules. They made me show my negative test result before I could board the plane and also asked me lots of questions about where I had been and where I was going.

‘There were no checks on the Paris to London leg of my journey. I wasn’t asked a single question and just waltzed out of Heathrow as if there was not even a pandemic going on. It’s ridiculous.’

Richard Warden, 38 a marine engineer who had flown in from St Maarten island in the Caribbean said: ‘I had a Covid test 36 hours before flying but wasn’t asked any questions when I arrived at Heathrow.

‘It’s quite shocking to think that the authorities are so slack in this country. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about the rules, but I’m regularly checked anyhow because my company requires it.’

Mohammed Ali, a businessman from Dubai had just returned from a business meeting in Brussels.

Mr Ali said that he arrived in London on Monday and then flew to Belgium on Wednesday and was returning to Dubai on Thursday night.

He said: ‘Britain is a joke and really needs to get its act together when it comes to Covid. I came from Dubai on Monday and haven’t even bothered to self-isolate, but nobody is checking here, we all know that. People are flying into this country from all over the world and the authorities don’t seem that bothered about whether they are carrying the virus or not.

‘I’m having a Covid test done before I boarded my flight to Dubai on Thursday night otherwise, they will not let me on it. Once I’m there, they are very strict about self-isolating and if I leave my home I could be fined £50,000.

‘But there are no proper checks being carried out for anybody arriving in the UK.’

He added: ‘I didn’t even know that the British government is asking for proof of a recent negative coronavirus test. It’s a good move, if you ask me and about time, they got serious about tackling this virus and enforcing the rules.’

Ben, 21, who had arrived from Amsterdam after a two-week internship with a Dutch company said: ‘I wanted to get back before the new rule came in about having a negative test.

‘There’s a national lockdown in Holland and I wasn’t sure where I would be able to get a test, so I thought it made sense to get home as quickly as possible. I didn’t know that they had changed the start day to next Monday as I might have stayed a bit longer.’

He added: ‘I’m not sure if how well they will enforce this new rule. Nobody checked my locator form and I just walked straight out of the airport without any questions being asked. Given the state that everything is in and the record Covid rates, it’s ridiculous that no checks were carried out.’

Student Andreas Jofre, 21 had just arrived from Dublin and was boarding a Thursday night flight home to his home in Argentina.

He said: ‘I’ve had a negative result which I have to show before going to Argentina otherwise they will not let me on the plane. I don’t know what the rules are for coming to England, but I was not asked anything.

‘It’s not good. Britain is the Covid capital of the world and I can’t believe that they are not carrying out proper checks on travellers to this country.’

BA has not operated any flights to or from Brazil for three weeks, when the restrictions came in from Brazil, banning flights from the UK.  It has not run any commercial flights to the whole of South America for ‘weeks’.

Normally, BA flies to Brazil, Argentina and Chile but flights to the latter two countries have been winding down in recent weeks.

The ban on flights to South America is in place at least until the middle of February but will probably run on until the end of March. 

Abdul Yillah (pictured with his negative test certificate) also spoke to MailOnline as they arrived in the UK today at Heathrow

Shutaro Iikura also spoke to MailOnline as they arrived in the UK today at Heathrow

Abdul Yillah (pictured with his negative test certificate) and Shutaro Iikura also spoke to MailOnline as they arrived in the UK today at Heathrow

The Government has been accused of dropping the ball by not better checking people entering the UK

The Government has been accused of dropping the ball by not better checking people entering the UK

Previous coronavirus infection gives people immunity for five months – MORE than the Oxford vaccine, PHE study finds 

People previously infected with the coronavirus have more protection against reinfection five months later than people getting the Oxford vaccine, and the same level of immunity that is provided by the Pfizer jab, a Public Health England (PHE) study has found.

Data from PHE’s SIREN study, which follows more than 20,000 healthcare workers at more than 100 sites across Britain, looked at how many members of NHS staff in the study group caught the virus more than once.

A total of 6,614 workers were found to have had the virus in early 2020, either through antibody testing, PCR swabs or clinical evaluation based on symptoms.

Just 44 people from this group later tested positive for the coronavirus as a result of reinfection.

PHE scientists say this means previous infection confers 83 per cent protection against reinfection, and also reduces the likelihood of developing symptoms and severe disease.

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Meanwhile, ministers will today consider imposing a complete ban on flights and visitors for the whole of South America to combat a worrying new Brazil variant. This would mirror beefed-up restrictions brought in for South Africa due to its mutant Covid.

Boris Johnson admitted yesterday that he is ‘concerned’ about the latest strain – which the Government has known about for at least four days – amid fears it could dodge current vaccines. 

Airlines appear to have taken matters into their own hands, with all five flights scheduled between Brazil and Heathrow cancelled, and none due from other UK airports.    

In a round of interviews this morning, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins suggested the government was trying to balance ‘economic’ factors with health protection.

‘There is a very delicate balancing act here between controlling the virus but also making sure we are not putting too much of a burden on the economy,’ she told Sky News. 

The Brazilian variant could pose a massive setback to attempts to return the UK to normality, though it is unknown at present whether the strain has reached Britain. 

Amid a row over the Government’s response to the latest strain, the Prime Minister was yesterday accused by MPs of failing to tighten the borders quickly enough. 

MPs also questioned why new rules requiring all travellers to test negative before they enter the UK are being brought in ten months after the pandemic began. Other countries have had similar rules in place for months.

Asked why the air corridor between Brazil and parts of South America to the UK had not already been closed off, Ms Atkins said: ‘Of course, people flying into the UK, whether from South America or elsewhere are required to have a 10-day quarantine period when they land in the UK. That is mandatory.

‘Don’t let a coffee cost a life’: No10 ‘plans hard hitting new ad campaign warning people not to socialise as Priti vows MORE police on the streets to tackle rule-breakers 

Priti Patel warned police are ready to tackle people flouting lockdown rules as she said they were seeing 'dreadful' breaches

Priti Patel warned police are ready to tackle people flouting lockdown rules as she said they were seeing ‘dreadful’ breaches

Priti Patel today warned police are ready to tackle people flouting lockdown rules amid claims ministers are planning a hard-hitting advertising campaign.

After the coronavirus death toll hit a new daily record of 1,564, the Home Secretary said forces were seeing ‘dreadful’ breaches – with police breaking up several illegal raves last night including one held on a London roof-top. 

Officers in the capital were said to be ‘astounded’ after being called to break up a party at an industrial unit in Southwark last night, where they found at least 20 revellers on top of the building.

An illegal ‘house party’ of up to 100 people was also broken up by police in a Hertfordshire village, where music and alcohol were seized. 

The events were branded ‘completely unacceptable’ by police who issued Covid fines and made several arrests.

Appearing on ITV’s This Morning, Ms Patel said the government was not intending to make the lockdown tougher over the next few days – but she underlined that there will be harsher enforcement. The government is believed to be drawing up a new advertising push, with claims one draft slogan is ‘Don’t let a coffee cost a life.’ 

She said police were having to ‘break up some really dreadful situations where people are breaching the rules’.

‘It is important that we enforce these rules. Your viewers will see more police officers out and about,’ she said.

‘The rules are clear and the majority of the British public are following the rules.’

Pointing to the huge death toll yesterday, she said most people understood the need to ‘stop the spread of the virus’. 

‘The police will continue to issue fines and enforce against people who are flagrantly breaching the rules,’ she said. 

 

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‘In terms of the decision on travel measures, it takes a little bit of time.

‘What we need to ensure is that when we make these very, very important decisions that have a huge impact on people’s personal lives, but also businesses, we have got to have a little bit of time to let that bed in.

‘The Prime Minister was clear that measure will be taken, we have acted decisively in the past with both the Denmark and South African variants, so I wouldn’t want to speculate further at this stage.’ 

The requirement for all international passengers coming to the UK to show a negative Covid-19 test had been due to come into effect tomorrow. 

Passengers – including homecoming Britons – will have to get a test up to 72 hours before they travel. Border Force guards will carry out spot checks and anyone flouting the rules will be fined £500.

But after 11pm last night, Mr Shapps tweeted to declare that the measure was being delayed. ‘To give international arrivals time to prepare passengers will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before departure to England from MONDAY 18 JANUARY at 4am.’

To add to the confusion, Mr Shapps added a calendar emoji showing the 17th. 

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the situation was ‘utter chaos’.

‘The Government has lacked a comprehensive airport testing policy through this pandemic and now it is slipping into utter chaos,’ he said.

‘Issuing statements in the middle of the night, because their proposals are unworkable, causes ever greater challenges for travellers and industry.

‘This chronic failure is also putting us at risk yet again, from strains such as those that emerged in South Africa and Brazil. As ever, Ministers are too slow to act and it’s putting people at serious risk.’ 

And Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the negative test requirement was already in force north of the border – even though it is not due to be until tomorrow.

In an interview on BBC Breakfast he was asked what the Scottish position was following the news that rules requiring travellers arriving in England to have a negative coronavirus test have been delayed.

He said: ‘The position in Scotland is that those restrictions are in place and we want to see people following those restrictions to make sure that we minimise the risk.’ 

Asked, ‘So you have to have a test before you travel to Scotland?’, he replied ‘Yes’ and agreed that the restrictions apply now.

Home affairs committee chairman Yvette Cooper savaged Mr Johnson yesterday for failing to act fast enough.  

At the Liaison Committee hearing, she demanded to know why UK borders were not immediately shut to travellers from Brazil after warnings of the new strain.

She asked him: ‘Why aren’t you taking immediate action on a precautionary basis?’ 

Ms Cooper also criticised the quarantine system for being ‘so much weaker’ than measures in dozens of other countries which include rigorous border testing. 

‘She said it meant arrivals being allowed to board public transport to get to where they will self-isolate after landing, with few checks to see if people are quarantining.

The Prime Minister revealed ministers were looking at ways to stop a variant of the variant found in Brazil — but dodged questions about whether Britain would adopt a travel ban

The Prime Minister revealed ministers were looking at ways to stop a variant of the variant found in Brazil — but dodged questions about whether Britain would adopt a travel ban

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced late last night that is being pushed back to Monday to give people 'time to prepare'

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced late last night that is being pushed back to Monday to give people ‘time to prepare’

In a round of interviews this morning, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins suggested the government was trying to balance 'economic' factors with health protection

In a round of interviews this morning, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins suggested the government was trying to balance ‘economic’ factors with health protection

Pictured: A gravedigger works at the Parque Taruma cemetery amid the coronavirus outbreak in Manaus, Brazil in December

Pictured: A gravedigger works at the Parque Taruma cemetery amid the coronavirus outbreak in Manaus, Brazil in December

It is understood ministers will today consider imposing a complete ban on flights and visitors for the whole of South America to tackle the Brazil variant. Pictured: Guarulhos, Sao Paulo

It is understood ministers will today consider imposing a complete ban on flights and visitors for the whole of South America to tackle the Brazil variant. Pictured: Guarulhos, Sao Paulo

All three of the mutated versions of the coronavirus found in recent weeks – the ones from Kent, South Africa and Brazil – have had a change on the spike protein of the virus called N501Y, which scientists say makes it better able to latch onto the body and spread

All three of the mutated versions of the coronavirus found in recent weeks – the ones from Kent, South Africa and Brazil – have had a change on the spike protein of the virus called N501Y, which scientists say makes it better able to latch onto the body and spread 

 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE BRAZIL VARIANT? 

Name: B.1.1.248 or P.1

Date: Discovered in Tokyo, Japan, in four travellers arriving from Manaus, Brazil, on January 2.

Is it in the UK? Public health officials and scientists randomly sample around 1 in 10 coronavirus cases in the UK and they have not yet reported any cases of B.1.1.248, but this doesn’t rule it out completely.

Why should we care? The variant has the same spike protein mutation as the highly transmissible versions found in Kent and South Africa – named N501Y – which makes the spike better able to bind to receptors inside the body.

It has a third, less well-studied mutation called K417T, and the ramifications of this are still being researched. 

What do the mutations do?

The N501Y mutation makes the spike protein better at binding to receptors in people’s bodies and therefore makes the virus more infectious. 

Exactly how much more infectious it is remains to be seen, but scientists estimate the similar-looking variant in the UK is around 56 per cent more transmissible than its predecessor. 

Even if the virus doesn’t appear to be more dangerous, its ability to spread faster and cause more infections will inevitably lead to a higher death rate.

Another key mutation in the variant, named E484K, is also on the spike protein and is present in the South African variant. 

E484K may be associated with an ability to evade parts of the immune system called antibodies, researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro said in a scientific paper published online.

However, there are multiple immune cells and substances involved in the destruction of coronavirus when it gets into the body so this may not translate to a difference in how people get infected or recover.

Will our vaccines still protect us?

There is no reason to believe that already-developed Covid vaccines will not protect against the variant.

The main and most concerning change to this version of the virus is its N501Y mutation.

Pfizer, the company that made the first vaccine to get approval for public use in the UK, has specifically tested its jab on viruses carrying this mutation in  a lab after the variants emerged in the UK and South Africa.

They found that the vaccine worked just as well as it did on other variants and was able to ignore the change.

And, as the South African variant carries another of the major mutations on the Brazilian strain (E484K) and the Pfizer jab worked against that, too, it is likely that the new mutation would not affect vaccines. 

The immunity developed by different types of vaccine is broadly similar, so if one of them is able to work against it, the others should as well.

Professor Ravi Gupta, a microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Vaccines are still likely to be effective as a control measure if coverage rates are high and transmission is limited as far as possible.’

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Ms Cooper added: ‘You give the impression each time that you just delay all of the difficult and uncomfortable decisions until the last possible minute and when so many lives are at stake, Prime Minister, is this the leadership we really need?’

Mr Johnson claimed ‘huge quantities of checks’ are being carried out to see if people are self-isolating.  

The PM said: ‘We are concerned about the new Brazilian variant.

‘We already have tough measures… to protect this country from new infections coming in from abroad. We are taking steps to do that in respect of the Brazilian variant.’

He added: ‘There are lots of questions we still have about that variant, we don’t know for instance, any more than we know whether the South African variant is vaccine resistant.’      

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, told ITV’s Peston show there was no evidence any of the variants led to more severe disease. 

It is not yet known if the Brazilian strain is present in the UK. Brazil has had one of the world’s highest Covid death tolls – 205,000.

The SAGE sub-group NERVTAG discussed the issue on Tuesday. 

Brazil has already banned flights from the UK amid the pandemic, so the new move would be a reciprocal one. 

In 2019, there were around 290,000 visits to the UK from people travelling from Brazil, but there are currently no direct flights running from Brazil to the UK, according to Skyscanner. 

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told the Commons a new jab could be manufactured in 30 to 40 days if a variant of the virus is found to be less responsive to those available.

The Department for Transport published small print of the rules requiring all passengers entering the UK to show a negative test only late last night – shortly before they are due to kick in.

But they won’t be enforced until Monday due to a ‘grace period’ brought in after a backlash from the travel industry. 

Before the delay was announced, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, chairman of the Airport Operators Association, said: ‘It’s horrendous.

‘We need to support travellers who are facing the issue of needing to get home.

‘The industry wants to deliver the safest way to get home, but it needs that guidance and the detail in good time.’ 

Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘There is not enough clarity around the type of tests allowed, leaving consumers panicking about whether they will be let into the country without a fine, because they have the wrong documentation. Policy on the hoof never works.’

Up to 100,000 Britons are estimated to be abroad. Many went in mid-December before the third lockdown.

Experts last night questioned about why Britain had not brought in testing at the border, despite dozens of countries around the world having had it in place for months. 

Professor Lawrence Young, a molecular oncologist at the University of Warwick, said: ‘You could argue it’s too little, too late. We should have been doing this ages ago.

‘If you look at where successful lockdowns, in terms of returning back to normality, have happened, that’s where people have closed their borders. The horse has bolted.

‘It is hard to understand why we haven’t been more stringent about international travel and why we’re doing testing now and didn’t pay as much attention to it last March. Testing has to be a really important part of this.’ 

A Department for Transport spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘As the Prime Minister said, we are aware of this new variant and are considering urgent measures to reduce the spread to the UK. 

‘Arrivals from Brazil are already required to self-isolate for ten days or face a fine starting at £500.’  

It is normal for viruses to mutate and early signs don’t suggest that any of the new variants of coronavirus are more deadly than others, but in some places it is evolving to be able to spread faster.

If the virus is faster spreading it will inevitably lead to more cases which will in turn lead to a higher death count, even if the strain itself isn’t more dangerous.

The variant that emerged in Kent, now estimated to be around 56 per cent more transmissible than its predecessor, has quickly become the dominant form of the virus in England and has led to the country’s longest and toughest lockdown since March 2020.

There is no evidence to suggest vaccines will be any less effective against this variant. Pfizer, maker of the first jab to be approved, tested theirs on the similar UK and South Africa variants and said it still worked just as well.   

The mutated variant of coronavirus was discovered in Japan last week in four people who had arrived on a flight from Brazil. It was first detected in Brazil in October.

Scientists said it had similarities to that of the highly contagious variants in Britain and South Africa. 

Namely, it has a genetic mutation called N501Y, which changes the shape of the spike proteins found on the outside of the virus.

This mutation makes the virus more able to latch onto the receptors inside the body that it targets, essentially meaning it successfully makes it past the body’s natural defences more often.

Therefore people who are exposed to the virus become infected more often than they would if the other person was infected with an older, less contagious strain.

A World Health Organization report on the variant last week said: ‘The variant was identified when whole-genome sequencing was conducted on samples from 4 travellers from Brazil who were tested at the airport…

‘Through our regional offices, we are working with both Japanese and Brazilian authorities to evaluate the significance of these findings. 

‘We are also working with our Viral Evolution Working Group to assess the significance of this, and if this variant as well as others identified in recent months result in changes in transmissibility, clinical presentation or severity, or if they impact on countermeasures, including diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.’

It added: ‘The same comprehensive approach to controlling Covid-19 works against these variants. 

‘At an individual level, protective measures work for all identified variants: physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue.’ 

It is too early on in the variant’s discovery for politicians or scientists to be confident about how the changes to the virus will affect outbreaks.

Lab testing suggests its N501Y mutation could make it more transmissible – the UK variant with the same change is estimated to be around 56 per cent more infectious, but other changes to the virus may affect this, too.

And another key mutation in the variant, named E484K, which is also on the spike protein, may be associated with an ability to evade parts of the immune system called antibodies, researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro said in a scientific paper published online.

However, there are multiple immune cells and substances involved in the destruction of coronavirus when it gets into the body so this may not translate to a difference in how people get infected or recover.

There is no reason to believe that already-developed Covid vaccines will not protect against the variant.

The main and most concerning change to this version of the virus is its N501Y mutation, which has been linked to faster transmission.

Pfizer, the company that made the first vaccine to get approval for public use in the UK, has specifically tested its jab on viruses carrying this mutation in  a lab after the variants emerged in the UK and South Africa.

They found that the vaccine worked just as well as it did on other variants and was able to ignore the change.

And, as the South African variant carries another of the major mutations on the Brazilian strain (E484K) and the Pfizer jab worked against that, too, it is likely that the new mutation would not affect vaccines. 

This new variant (shown in light green) was first spotted in Brazil in October and accounted for a growing share of infections there in November

This new variant (shown in light green) was first spotted in Brazil in October and accounted for a growing share of infections there in November 

The immunity developed by different types of vaccine is broadly similar, so if one of them is able to work against it, the others should as well.

Professor Ravi Gupta, a microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘The Brazilian variant has three key mutations in the spike receptor binding domain (RBD) that largely mirror some of the mutations we are worried about it in the South African variant, hence the concern. 

‘The SARS-CoV-2 RBD is one of the main targets for our immune defences and also the region targeted by vaccines and changes within this region are therefore worrisome. 

‘Vaccines are still likely to be effective as a control measure if coverage rates are high and transmission is limited as far as possible.’      

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Japan said in its report that the people infected with the variant were found in airport screening in Tokyo on January 2.

They had travelled from Amazonas, a state in the north of Brazil which contains the city Manaus, home to two million people and the first place the variant was found.

The disease institute (NIID) said: ‘Information on the variant isolate is limited to viral genome sequence data. 

‘Further investigation is necessary to assess infectivity, pathogenicity, and impact on laboratory diagnosis and vaccine efficacy of this variant strain.

‘NIID recommends that persons infected with the variant isolate should be monitored in an isolated room and active epidemiological investigation should be initiated including contact tracing (with source investigation) and monitoring of the clinical course.’

Ministers and experts have said the repeated emergence of new variants is a warning sign that the coronavirus is evolving frequently and that some of the evolutions make significant changes to how the virus works.

Although the variants spotted already don’t seem to make the virus more deadly or have the ability to get past a vaccine, the more different variants there are, the more likely it is than one will have a mutation that spells disaster.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, a virologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, in Durban, South Africa, told The Telegraph: ‘This variant is a wake up call that we should try to really decrease transmission of SARS-CoV-2 [coronavirus]. 

‘It is clear that if you leave it circulating, the virus has the ability to outsmart us and become better at transmission and evasion of the antibody response.’

Why DO experts say the outbreak is slowing if the death toll is continuing to soar? How 21-day lag between getting infected and becoming severely ill means fatalities won’t peak for another fortnight

Prominent SAGE scientists claimed today Britain’s winter coronavirus wave is flattening after cases fell for four days straight — despite the country recording its worst death toll ever on Wednesday.

Another 1,564 more Covid fatalities were announced yesterday across the UK in the deadliest day since the pandemic began, with the total number of laboratory-confirmed victims on track to pass the grisly 100,000 mark by February.

But Sir Patrick Vallance, No10’s chief scientific officer, and Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling plunged the UK into its first lockdown in March, said there are ‘early signs’ the third national shutdown is slowing the crisis.

They have pointed to the fact that, nationally, the number of people catching Covid is trending downwards, with the 47,525 positive tests yesterday across Britain down by a quarter on last week’s figure. 

But there is a roughly three-week time delay between someone catching the disease and dying from it, which means it takes about 21 days for a trend in cases to translate to the fatality figures.

Because Britain only went into lockdown a week ago, daily Covid deaths are likely to continue to rise for at least another fortnight before falling. 

Here, MailOnline answers your questions on the UK’s current Covid situation:

Are cases going down everywhere?

Covid infection rates are falling across swathes of authorities in the UK, according to most recent official data up to January 8.

Cases are falling in boroughs in London, the South East and East of England — which were bearing the brunt of the winter wave ahead of the national shutdown on January 4.

Infections in Kent — one of the first areas of England to be slapped with the harshest local lockdown measures — were actually slowing before the third lockdown, suggesting the tough Tier Four restrictions in place there were having some effect.

In London, the number of people testing positive per 100,000 fell from a peak of 1,116 on January 4 to 1,005 by January 7. But there was a slight uptick again on January 8 across every region, according to Department of Health figures. 

 

In the East of England dropped from 856 per 100,000 to 741 and in the South East from 774 to 679 in the same time period.

In areas with the lightest rules, however, cases continued to surge late into the year and, despite almost the entire country getting tougher rules on boxing day, continued to rise into the start of lockdown, with some still going up. 

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘It is too early to be confident that the data from the past few days have indeed meant we have now reached the peak.

‘The current positive signs may represent a statistical glitch or a short-lived effect causing recent increases to stall only for the surge to be resumed.

‘It is also still too early for this to be driven by the vaccination campaign. Nevertheless if the recent trend is maintained this would be very good news for our NHS.’

Why are infections still going up in some parts of country? 

Infections are still going up in some parts of the country because it takes weeks for lockdown measures to take effect.

It is not by chance that the places where cases continue to climb are in areas that enjoyed looser restrictions in December.

For example, the Liverpool city region — formerly Britain’s Covid hotspot — is seeing steep increases in infection rates again.

In Knowsley, where the biggest rise in England happened over the past week, cases were 1,399.3 per 100,000 people in the seven days ending January 9, up from 796.8.  

Merseyside was under Tier Two restrictions right up until January, which allowed restaurants, cinemas and gyms to stay open. The same was true for places in the South West. Torbay in Devon saw its case rate double in the last week to 254 per 100,000.

When will hospital admissions start to fall? 

Hospital admissions are already falling across London and the South East and are slowing in the East, official figures suggest.

Department of Health statistics show daily admissions in the capital hit their high point on January 6 — on day two of the shutdown — when the seven-day average stood at 864. It dropped to 845 the following day. In the South East, hospitalisations also peaked on January 6 when they reached 662.

And in the East of England — which was plunged into the highest bracket of restrictions at the same time — they had started to level off by January 4 but have not yet started to fall.

But even as admissions have slowed across the capital and in regions first plunged into the toughest bracket, the overall number of patients in hospital is still rising because the number of new cases needing treatment each day is still high. 

Almost 36,500 infected Britons were receiving NHS care in January 11. 

Despite the glimmer of hope, which comes alongside falling infections, hospital admissions for patients suffering from the virus are also continuing to rise in the South West, North West, North East and Midlands.

The roughly three-week lag between a person catching Covid and falling seriously unwell with it means hospital rates could continue to climb for another fortnight. But they are anticipated to fall after that in line with the infection rate trends.

But when will NHS hospitals start to feel ease in pressure?

The number of coronavirus infections, hospitalisations, admissions to intensive care and deaths is going to keep rising in the UK for weeks, with the peak not hitting until next month, according to a top NHS chief. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said he expects pressure to spike and begin to tail off in February because the third lockdown does not appear to be working as quickly as the one in spring, he claimed.

He warned a health and social care committee of MPs yesterday: ‘It is pretty clear the infection rate is not going to go down as quickly as it did in the first phase.

‘We were hoping for a sharp peak that came sooner and shorter. So something for example where we saw the peak and started to crest it in mid to late January.

‘It now looks like the peak for NHS demand may actually now be in February. Now if that’s right that’s going to basically mean there’s a higher level, and a more extended period of pressure on the NHS than we were expecting even just a week ago.’

A wave of admissions was now hitting the East of England into the Midlands, the North West and South West, after London, the South East and the East bore the brunt of the winter wave.

‘That’s a particular worry because trusts in the Midlands and the North have got significant numbers of patients still in hospital from the second surge.’   

Why are deaths still rising?

Deaths always lag weeks behind cases because of the time it takes for patients to catch and fall ill with Covid.

Although it varies from person to person, experts say it takes roughly three weeks for an infected person to succumb to the disease.

For this reason scientists are able to forecast how deaths will trend based on how infections are fluctuating.

UK cases have fallen for four days in a row which appears to show that infections are trending downwards just a week into the national lockdown.

Because infections dropped from last week, it would suggest that deaths will follow in about a fortnight’s time.

DailyMail Online


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