The UK’s health officials are desperately trying to locate an individual who was infected with a strand of the coronavirus variant that was initially detected in Brazil.
Over the course of February, six cases in total were found in the UK – three in England and three in Scotland.
Public Health England identified three of the cases.
Two of these were in Gloucestershire, with a history of travel to Brazil.
Health officials are still trying to find the third individual who did not complete their forms correctly when they conducted a home test, the BBC reported.
PHE is working with the NHS Test and Trace officials to contact all passengers on Swiss Air flight LX318 travelling from Sao Paulo via Zurich and landing in London Heathrow on 10 February, to see if they can find the missing individual.
What’s the background of this new strain?
The Brazilian variant (P.1 or 501Y.V3), a descendent of B.1.1.28, was first found in travellers to Japan from Manaus in the northern part of Brazil. It is most closely related to the second wave of Covid that hit the region in January.
What’s there to be worried about?
There is data to suggest this strand is more likely to cause Covid-19 infections among those that have been vaccinated or who had been infected with one of the earlier strains of “wild-type” Covid-19.
“P1… carries several mutations that are seen in other variants of concern that are predicted to change the behaviour of the virus. These include E484K, which is predicted to make existing antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 less effective, as well as N501Y which is potentially linked to increase transmissibility,” said Nick Loman, professor of Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics, Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham.
Additionally, there’s concern over the variant since it shares important mutations with the South African variant (B.1.351).
“Recent reports from Manaus in Brazil, where the P1 variant is fuelling a surge in infections, suggest that this variant is responsible for re-infecting individuals who were previously infected with a different variant of the virus. That’s why it’s even more important to do everything to stop the spread of this virus and all other variants including strict border controls and an efficient test, trace and isolate system,” said Lawrence Young, professor of Molecular Oncology at Warwick Medical School.
Do we know if it’s more transmissible than the dominant variant in the UK?
“We don’t currently know if this variant is more transmissible than B.1.1.7, the variant that is currently dominant in the UK,” said professor Loman.
Is it a surprise that it’s been detected here?
Professor Loman said it is “possibly somewhat surprising” that the variant hasn’t been detected in the UK to date as it has been associated with high case numbers in Brazil. It has also been detected in several other countries including Belgium, Italy and Switzerland.
“This recent set of cases in the UK will need rapid epidemiological investigations to establish if there are further linked cases,” said Loman.
Will the variant impact lifting of the UK’s third national lockdown?
Number 10 said in a briefing with journalists on 1 March that the first phase of lifting the lockdown is due to start on 8 March with the reopening of schools, as planned.
The government is looking to “surge testing” now deployed in Gloucestershire, to identify more cases of the variant.
To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Penny Sukhraj