Coronavirus: what we know about the Brazilian Covid strain

Government imposes travel ban in response to mutation that may evade antibodies

Mass graves dug for Covid victims in Manaus
Mass graves dug for Covid victims in Manaus
(Image credit: Michael Dantas/AFP/Getty)

Travel to the UK from South America and Portugal is to be banned from Friday amid concerns over the Brazilian strain of Covid-19 discovered earlier this week

The government’s Covid-O committee, chaired by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, met today to discuss the new variant, announcing the ban on travel shortly afterwards.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted that he had taken the decision to ban travel from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela as of 4pm tomorrow.

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In a second tweet, Shapps added that travel to and from Portugal will also be banned due to “its strong travel links with Brazil”.

The new variant was detected in four people who had travelled from Brazil to Tokyo earlier this month. The mutation E484K, which the Brazilian variant shares with the South African strain discovered last month, may evade antibodies, allowing reinfections and rendering vaccines less effective.

The Times’ science editor Tom Whipple says it is “troubling” that the variant’s origin appears to be Manaus because it was thought that the Amazonian city, once one of the hardest-hit in the world, had reached herd immunity.

Last summer, excess deaths dropped from about 120 per day to “practically zero”, leading health chiefs to speculate that the city may have achieved “some kind of collective immunity”.

Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, told The Independent the suggestion that the Brazilian strain is resistant to vaccines is the “most worrying of all”.

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser admitted last night that the new variant could be resistant to existing jabs. “We don’t know for sure,” he told ITV’s Peston show. “There’s a bit more of a risk that this might change the way the immune system recognises it, but we don’t know.”

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