Brazilian Coronavirus Variant already in UK

Eleven Britons have been infected with a Brazilian coronavirus variant which is feared could make vaccines less effective, it emerged today as Number 10 was accused of was accused of ‘putting lives at risk’ by being too slow to close the borders.

The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) revealed the variant, known as P.2, had been picked up 11 times through routine testing in Britain. The first positive sample taken on November 14 at a Lighthouse Laboratory in Glasgow, MailOnline understands. Laboratories in Cheshire, Milton Keynes and Cambridge have also spotted the variant, it is believed.

Some confusion has emerged over the exact number of people to have been infected with it in the UK – COG-UK today it had found 11 by today, January 15, but Public Health England said it had only recorded eight by January 14.

At least two nurses in Brazil have been infected with P.2 despite catching and beating Covid in the spring, which has raised fears the new variant can slip past vaccines and undo natural immunity. The variant is also thought to be more infectious than regular Covid after being linked to an explosion of cases this winter in Brazil.

Sir Patrick Vallance said today even if a new variant is able to get around the current iteration of vaccines, it was going to be ‘really quite easy’ to tweak them to target the new versions. Offering hope that the variant wouldn’t render the jabs completely useless, he said they should provide protection against the variants but the ‘question is to what degree’.

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Scientists have said the Brazilian stain in the UK is not the same as the variant detected in four travellers who flew from the Brazilian city of Manaus to Japan last week. That variant, known as P.1, led to the banning of travellers from South America and Portugal from entering the UK from today.

Both Brazilian variants share a mutation on their spike proteins, known as E484K, which is thought to play a role in making them more transmissible. Professor Wendy Barclay, a virologist behind a new Government-led research team studying Covid mutations, admitted both variants ‘might impact the way that antibodies work’.

However, COG-UK said P.1 has two other problematic mutations — K417T and N501Y — which P.2 does not have, making it more infectious and more likely to slip past the immune system than the version found in Britain. The group said P.2 is ‘not at present considered sufficient to designate it as a “variant of concern”.’

It came as Labour today criticised the Government for having ‘no proper strategy in place’ for tackling the pandemic. Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said No10’s ‘incompetence is putting lives at risk’.

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He added: ‘It is terrible news that evidence of the highly infectious Covid variant from Brazil has been found in the UK. This is yet another example of the Conservatives being far too slow to protect our borders against Covid, closing the door after the horse has bolted.’

A Brazilian coronavirus variant that is feared could reinfect survivors is already in the UK and has been here for ‘some time’, a leading scientist confirmed today (stock image)

Ministers only imposed the South America travel ban this morning, prompting fury from MPs who questioned why the decision came days after scientists first raised the alarm about the variant that had been spotted in Japan.

It comes despite Public Health England claiming as recently as yesterday it had not spotted any cases of a Brazilian strain. Earlier this morning, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said he was ‘not aware’ of any cases.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said today ministers had acted as ‘quickly as possible’ and that experts at PHE’s Porton Down laboratory were assessing the variant and ‘should have the results very shortly’. They insisted that the current evidence does not suggest the strain is deadlier or affects vaccines.

Sir Patrick Vallance stoked fears this week when he said SAGE doesn’t know if the jabs will beat the variant – but other top advisers believe it won’t render the vaccine useless but may make it slightly less effective.

It comes after a Chinese vaccine being trialled in Brazil yielded a surprisingly low effectiveness rate at just 50 per cent on Wednesday.

But scientists today shot down speculation it could be the new variants making the jab less potent, pointing out that the study took place over summer when the new variants were not widespread.

MailOnline understands Brazilian strain entered the UK in November and may have been spotted in 11 British people already.  It was believed to have been picked up by routine testing, which sees random samples sent to the Government’s Lighthouse labs to be analysed by genomic sequencers tracking the evolution of coronavirus.