Search for missing Brazil Covid variant case narrowed down to 379 households in south east

2 March 2021, 13:31 | Updated: 2 March 2021, 19:19

Health Secretary Matt Hancock updates MPs in the House of Commons
Health Secretary Matt Hancock updates MPs in the House of Commons. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The search for the unidentified Brazil Covid variant case missing in England has been narrowed down to 379 households in the south east, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs.

Public Health England (PHE) said on Sunday six cases of the strain first detected in the Brazilian city of Manaus have been confirmed in Britain, three in England and three in Scotland.

The two other cases identified in England were found in South Gloucestershire, with Dr Hopkins saying surge testing had started on Monday in the area as a “highly precautionary measure”.

Read more: Covid-19 deaths fall to lowest level since start of 2021

Matt Hancock urged the missing person to come forward during a press conference on Monday, but announced the search radius had been narrowed when speaking to MPs on Tuesday.

Updating MPs on the six cases of the variant of concern, Mr Hancock said: "We know that five of these six people quarantined at home as they were legally required to do."

He added: "We're stepping up our testing and sequencing in south Gloucestershire as a precaution. We have no information to suggest the variant has spread further.

"Unfortunately one of these six cases completed a test but didn't successfully complete the contact details. Incidents like this are rare and only occur in around 0.1% of tests."

He went on: "We've identified the batch of home test kits in question, our search has narrowed from the whole country down to 379 households in the south-east of England and we're contacting each one.

"We're grateful that a number of potential cases have come forward following the call that we put out over the weekend.

"Our current vaccines have not yet been studied against this variant and we're working to understand what impact it might have, but we do know that this variant has caused significant challenges in Brazil, so we're doing all we can to stop the spread of this new variant in the UK, to analyse its effects and to develop an updated vaccine that works on all these variants of concern and protect the progress that we've made as a nation."

The Gloucestershire cluster is said to have originated from one individual who travelled back from Brazil and arrived in London on February 10 - five days before the Government's quarantine hotel policy came into force.

The traveller isolated at home with the rest of their household under the rules in place at the time. One member exhibited Covid symptoms before getting a test.

Dr Hopkins said more than 90% of passengers on Swiss Air flight LX318, which travelled from Sao Paulo, through Zurich, landing in London Heathrow on February 10, had been reached amid a bid to contact all those on board.

The variant is concerning because it may spread more rapidly and respond less well to existing vaccines.

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said it was being tracked "very closely".

"It shares some important mutations with the variants first identified in South Africa," she told a Downing Street news briefing.

"These and other mutations are associated with reduced impact of antibodies against the virus in laboratory experiments.

"The current vaccines have not yet been studied against this variant and we will need to await further clinical and trial data to understand the vaccine effectiveness against this variant."

The Scottish Government said the three residents who tested positive for the strain returned to north-east Scotland from Brazil, via Paris and London.

The tests were completed in early February and were passed to the UK's sequencing programme.

Officials are contacting the other passengers on their flight from London to Aberdeen.