American Daily Digest

Covid UK: South America travel banned due to Brazil super-strain

MPs blast ministers for taking DAYS to ban travellers from Portugal and swathes of South America after learning about new Brazilian Covid strain – as passengers from Sao Paulo reveal they ‘just walked through Heathrow unchecked’

  • UK is imposing a ban travellers from South America as well as parts of central America and Portugal tomorrow
  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the dramatic restrictions will come into force from 4am tomorrow  
  • MPs have condemned the government for failing to act fast enough to protect the UK’s borders from variants
  • Requirement for all arrivals to have a negative test to enter the UK were delayed from tomorrow to Monday 
  • Are you in one of the affected countries and set on returning to the UK? Email jack.w.elsom@mailonline.co.uk

Advertisement

Ministers have come under fire from MPs demanding to know why a travel ban with South America and Portugal was only announced tonight despite scientists warning of the Brazilian Covid super-strain for days. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said this evening that all travellers from South America, Panama and Cape Verde as well as Portugal will be blocked from 4am tomorrow. 

No-one who has been in any of the listed countries in the previous 10 days will be granted entry, except British and Irish nationals who will have to self-isolate for 10 days. 

Mr Shapps tweeted: ‘I’ve taken the urgent decision to BAN ARRIVALS from ARGENTINA, BRAZIL, BOLIVIA, CAPE VERDE, CHILE, COLOMBIA, ECUADOR, FRENCH GUIANA, GUYANA, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, PERU, SURINAME, URUGUAY AND VENEZUELA – from TOMORROW, 15 JAN at 4AM following evidence of a new variant in Brazil.’ 

He added: ‘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.’

The Transport Secretary also said that Chile, Madeira, and the Azores would also be removed the travel corridor list of countries were UK arrivals are required to self-isolate for up to 10 days on return.

Lib Dem MP and party transport spokeswoman Sarah Olney said: ‘Once again it seems the Conservatives have missed the opportunity to help stem the spread of Covid-19.

‘They’ve delayed action on cutting travel between the UK and South America, risking the arrival of the new variant. Brazil has already stopped flights from the UK arriving there.’

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

He 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’. 

The curbs, confirmed by the Covid O Cabinet sub-committee, mirror beefed-up rules brought in for South Africa due to its mutant Covid strain. 

It comes as travellers told MailOnline they were allowed to fly into the UK via Portugal without being checked for Covid-19. Ana Lellis, 27, said she was surprised because people in Brazil were ‘still partying and everything is open’. She got tested for coronavirus because it was a TAP Air Portugal requirement but this was not checked when she landed in London. 

Boris Johnson admitted yesterday that 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.

Variants can generally only be picked up by detailed examination of randomly-picked test samples so don’t show up until they are already widespread. The South African variant, for example, can’t be distinguished from others in test results alone. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was taking 'urgent' action in an effort to prevent the mutant version getting into Britain

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was taking 'urgent' action in an effort to prevent the mutant version getting into Britain

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was taking ‘urgent’ action in an effort to prevent the mutant version getting into Britain

Barbra and John Santos

Barbra and John Santos

Paula Gamini

Paula Gamini

Brazilians arrive at Heathrow today ahead of tomorrow’s travel ban: Barbra and John Santos (left) and Paula Gamini

Ministers are signing off on barring direct flights from South America in an effort to prevent the mutant strain getting into Britain

Ministers are signing off on barring direct flights from South America in an effort to prevent the mutant strain getting into Britain

Ministers are signing off on barring direct flights from South America in an effort to prevent the mutant strain getting into Britain

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

Boris Johnson said he was 'concerned' about the new variant

Boris Johnson said he was 'concerned' about the new variant

Sir Patrick Vallance (left), 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. Boris Johnson (right) said he was ‘concerned’ about the new variant

Deaths and cases have been rising alarmingly in many of the countries subject to restrictions with suggestions that the mutant strain is responsible

Deaths and cases have been rising alarmingly in many of the countries subject to restrictions with suggestions that the mutant strain is responsible

Deaths and cases have been rising alarmingly in many of the countries subject to restrictions with suggestions that the mutant strain is responsible 

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

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

Chaos at the border: Travellers from South Africa enter unchecked as ministers delay new negative test rule until MONDAY 

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. 

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. 

It came as ministers to delay their plan for tighter border controls amid confusion. 

The Government was preparing to enforce a stricter regime requiring tests 72 hours pre-departure from 4am on Friday, but this has now been pushed back to Monday. 

In an 11pm tweet, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote: ‘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.’

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.’

Advertisement

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.

If evidence emerges that the Brazilian variant is significantly different to others already in Britain, it could present more obstacles to getting life back to normal. 

There is no proof that the variant is already in Britain but it is ‘entirely possible’, said Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading.

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. 

He said: ‘There’s no evidence at all with any of these variants that it makes the disease itself more severe. 

‘So the changes that we’re seeing with the variants are largely around increased transmission.

‘[There’s] no evidence yet for the UK version that it makes a difference in terms of how the immune system recognises it, and if you’ve been exposed to the old variant or you’ve had a vaccine, it looks like that’s gonna work just as well with this new variant for the UK one.

‘The South African one and Brazilian one, we don’t know for sure. There’s a bit more of a risk that this might make a change to the way the immune system recognises it but we don’t know. Those experiments are underway.’

There are dozens of different variations of the coronavirus circulating in the UK but most cases are caused by a dominant select few – the main one, accounting for around two thirds of infections, is now the one which emerged in Kent. Around 30 cases of the South African variant have been spotted in the UK, researchers said this week. 

Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘If it is here then I expect it not to be here in great amounts because one in 10 viruses isolated [found in tests] are sequenced. If it was here in any appreciable quantity, it would have been picked up by now. 

‘But it could be here; people have been flying in from Brazil, people do come in via other countries and it is probably quite widespread over South America.’

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

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

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'

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

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

Asked why the air corridor between Brazil and parts of South America to the UK had not already been closed, Home Office minister Victoria 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.

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.’

Advertisement

‘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 returning Britons – will have to get a test within 72 hours of travelling. 

Border Force guards will carry out spot checks and anyone flouting the rules will be fined £500.

But, tweeting after 11pm last night, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps declared that the testing 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,’ he said.

Adding 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 chair and Labour MP, 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.

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.  

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

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

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 

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.’       

Dr Simon Clarke said it was not clear how the mutations on the Brazilian strain would change the virus, but they could be compared to those on the Kent and South Africa variants.

He said: ‘We know where the mutations are. I think it’s fair to say we don’t have a good picture on how easily it spreads or how quickly it spreads. 

‘Some of the changes, not all, are in the spike protein. The only one we have good data on in terms of the ability to spread is the Kent strain. 

‘The changes to the spike mean that they could make it more difficult for antibodies to bind to. If there is an effect, and it’s a big if, I would assume it would reduce their [vaccines] efficacy not abolish it, it wouldn’t render it useless but it might not be effective.’

What were the rules of the South Africa travel ban? 

Visitors arriving into England who have been in or travelled through South Africa in the previous 10 days will not be permitted entry and direct flights will be banned.

British and Irish Nationals, visa holders and permanent residents arriving from South Africa will be able to enter but are required to self-isolate for 10 days along with their household

The ban excludes cargo and freight without passengers

Any exemptions usually in place – including for those related to employment – will not apply

People who share a household with anyone self-isolating after returning from South Africa will now also need to self-isolate until 10 days have passed since anyone they live with was last in South Africa

The Home Office will step up Border Force presence to ensure that those arriving to England from South Africa are compliant with the new restrictions

Advertisement

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, although it’s not likely to affect a lot of people.

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 Scanner.

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 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.

Travellers have flown into the UK via Portugal without being checked for coronavirus 

Noêmia Lellis, 23

Noêmia Lellis, 23

Noêmia Lellis, 23

Travellers told MailOnline they were allowed to fly into the UK via Portugal without being checked for Covid-19. 

Ana Lellis, 27, said people in Brazil were ‘still partying and everything is open’.

She got tested for coronavirus because it was a TAP Air Portugal requirement but this was not checked when she landed in London. 

‘I am worried about coronavirus in Brazil because people are still partying and everything is open,’ she said.

‘There is a big following of people who don’t follow the rules. We had to get coronavirus tests because that is an TAP Air Portugal requirement but they weren’t checked in London. We simply picked up our bags and came out, they didn’t even check our locator form.’

Her sister, Noemia, 23, said: ‘I am shocked they were not doing checks on passengers who recently came back from Brazil.

‘There are no direct flights from the UK to Brazil anyway so people who will still travel through different countries.

‘It makes sense to have less flights to avoid this spread but we are happy to be allowed back. It is going to cause trouble for a lot of people, especially residents like us.’ 

Advertisement

‘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

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.’

Brazil’s Covid deaths soar back to their first wave peak of over 1,000 a day as new ‘more infectious’ strain that started in Amazon rips through country

By Rachel Bunyan for MailOnline and Matt Roper in Brazil 

Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak is surging again after another new and possibly more infectious strain of the virus was identified in the country. 

Daily deaths in the country rose back over 1,000 per day this week, around the same level as during the country’s first wave this spring, after the country had finally brought down the curves of infections and deaths last year. 

The new variant has been tracked to the country’s coronavirus epicentre of Manaus, where it was hoped that herd immunity had previously been achieved.

That raises the troubling possibility that the new variant can reinfect survivors and may therefore be resistant to vaccines, assuming that Brazil’s projections estimating herd immunity in Manaus were correct. 

This week Brazil registered its highest daily average of Covid infections since the start of the pandemic, with 54,784 confirmed cases on average per day – up 51 per cent on two weeks ago. 

Brazil has also average 993 deaths per day this week, a rise of 49 per cent compared to two weeks ago.  

The new Brazilian strain of coronavirus is the third to have caused global alarm, after more-infectious variants were also identified in the UK and South Africa.

The death toll is creeping higher - with 1,110 Covid-19 victims being recorded on Tuesday. Pictured: Workers bury a victim of Covid-10 while relatives look on from a distance in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil

The death toll is creeping higher - with 1,110 Covid-19 victims being recorded on Tuesday. Pictured: Workers bury a victim of Covid-10 while relatives look on from a distance in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil

The death toll is creeping higher – with 1,110 Covid-19 victims being recorded on Tuesday. Pictured: Workers bury a victim of Covid-10 while relatives look on from a distance in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil

In Manaus, northwestern Brazil, where there were haunting scenes last April of mass graves and corpses piled in refrigerator trucks, the health system is near to collapse again. Pictured: Cemetery workers carry the remains of 89-year-old Abilio Ribeiro, who died of the new coronavirus strain in Manaus on January 6

In Manaus, northwestern Brazil, where there were haunting scenes last April of mass graves and corpses piled in refrigerator trucks, the health system is near to collapse again. Pictured: Cemetery workers carry the remains of 89-year-old Abilio Ribeiro, who died of the new coronavirus strain in Manaus on January 6

In Manaus, northwestern Brazil, where there were haunting scenes last April of mass graves and corpses piled in refrigerator trucks, the health system is near to collapse again. Pictured: Cemetery workers carry the remains of 89-year-old Abilio Ribeiro, who died of the new coronavirus strain in Manaus on January 6

The Brazilian mutation was first discovered in Tokyo last week in four people who had arrived on a flight from the Amazonian jungle city of Manaus. 

The city was among the hardest-hit in Brazil, site of the world’s worst Covid outbreak outside of the US or India, with shocking scenes of mass graves dug in the Amazon and refrigerator trucks piled high with bodies.

So many were infected in the city of two million people during the first wave of the pandemic last year that some scientists thought that the city might have been approaching herd immunity. But that projection has proved well wide of the mark.

And the absence of herd immunity in Manaus could be caused by one of two factors – either the infection estimates were wrong first time around or the new variant can reinfect people who have already survived coronavirus. 

That would also have worrying implications for the prospects of the strain having an ability to resist existing vaccines.  

Shocking scenes returned to Manaus this week, as local officials warned the health system is near collapse once again. 

The city of two million people has been placed in a state of emergency for six months as hospitalisations passed the levels seen in the worst days of last year.

Hospitals this week ran out of oxygen, with new supplies having to be flown in by Brazilian Air Force jets. 

Refrigerator trucks have once again been deployed to store bodies, while structures to hold 22,000 coffins in horizontal ‘drawers’ are hastily being constructed.

Manaus registered more hospitalisations in the first week of 2021 than in the whole month of December, with a record 1,524 people admitted to hospital last Saturday. 

The city has also registered more than 100 burials every day this week, with a record 144 on Sunday – the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

A court on Saturday forced the state government to shut non-essential businesses for 15 days as infections and deaths surge.  

Manaus, where the new mutation detected in Japan is believed to have originated, has been placed in a state of emergency for six months as hospitalisations passed the levels seen in the worst days of last year. Pictured: A gravedigger works at Parque Taruma cemetary in Manaus

Manaus, where the new mutation detected in Japan is believed to have originated, has been placed in a state of emergency for six months as hospitalisations passed the levels seen in the worst days of last year. Pictured: A gravedigger works at Parque Taruma cemetary in Manaus

Manaus, where the new mutation detected in Japan is believed to have originated, has been placed in a state of emergency for six months as hospitalisations passed the levels seen in the worst days of last year. Pictured: A gravedigger works at Parque Taruma cemetary in Manaus

Meanwhile hospitals in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have recently reported intensive care units more than 90 percent full. 

The state of Amazonas, where nearly 6,000 people have died from Covid-19, is struggling to cope with the rising number of deaths. 

Hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in the state reached an occupancy rate of over 98% this week, according to data from the Amazonas state health department. Occupancy in temporary facilities that provide assistance to critical patients for later referral to other points of the health network was at 131 per cent.  

A court on Saturday forced the state government to shut non-essential businesses for 15 days as infections and deaths surge. 

Advertisement
Read more:

 268 total views,  2 views today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow by Email
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Share