Brazil Covid strain: What is the new variant? Have flights been stopped?

14 January 2021, 11:59 | Updated: 15 January 2021, 11:35

Boris Johnson has expressed concern about the new Covid variant
Boris Johnson has expressed concern about the new Covid variant. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Travel from Brazil to the UK has been banned in response to a new strain of coronavirus in the South American country.

Travel to the UK from Brazil, Portugal and 14 other countries has been banned.

It will take effect from 4am on Friday due to concerns over the Brazilian variant of coronavirus.

Panama and Cape Verde will also be included in the ban implemented by ministers on the Government's Covid-O committee on Thursday.

What is the new strain of Covid?

Cambridge University microbiology professor Ravi Gupta said the Brazilian variant has three key mutations that "largely mirror" some of those in the hyper-infectious South African variant "hence the concern".

"Vaccines are still likely to be effective as a control measure if coverage rates are high and transmission is limited as far as possible," he added.

Japan announced the detection of the new variant on Sunday and reported it to the World Health Organisation after the arrival from Brazil of a number of individuals infected with the strain.

It is not yet known whether the new variant is more infectious than other strains of the disease.

The Government's top scientist said the Brazilian variant contains "a change of the genetic code, at position 484, and that changes a part of the protein, it changes a bit of a shape of the protein".

Sir Patrick Vallance said that there is no evidence new variants are more deadly.

He explained: "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, it makes it easier to get it from one person to another, it makes it easier therefore to catch."

Has it been detected in the UK?

One of the two Brazilian Covid variants has been detected in the UK, a leading virologist has said.Professor Wendy Barclay said one of the two known variants from the South American country was "probably introduced some time ago."

She did not say whether it was the variant which has been causing concern.

Read the latest here

Have flights from Brazil to the UK been stopped?

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Thursday the "urgent decision" to halt flights from the countries in an attempt to reduce the potential spread of the variant, with experts uncertain how effective existing vaccines will be against it.

The Government banned direct flights from South Africa when a new and concerning variant emerged there.

What has the Prime Minister said?

Boris Johnson has said he is "concerned" about the new coronavirus variant that is believed to have emerged in Brazil but he stopped short of imposing a precautionary travel ban.

The Prime Minister insisted on Wednesday that "extra measures" are being taken to protect against the strain as he acknowledged it is unclear how effective existing vaccines will be against it.

Mr Johnson told the Commons liaison committee: "We are concerned about the new Brazilian variant.

"There remained many questions about the variant, including whether it would be resistant to the vaccines."