THE Brazilian “variant of concern” that has been discovered in the UK could disrupt plans to lift all lockdown measures in the UK by June 21 an expert has suggested.
Asked about the variant on Times Radio, Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College said the public should be “somewhat worried but not total panic, perhaps.”
But he suggested the Brazilian variant could have a real impact on the UK’s jab rollout, saying “The way I think about it is it’s a bit like, and I think about the effect that the Kent variant had… it just slowed everything up.”
If the variant does slow the UK jab rollout, Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap will almost certainly be impacted as one of the key conditions for June 21 lifting of measures is vaccines continuing at their current pace.
Any slowing down of the rollout could potentially push the June 21 date back by weeks or even months, as the Prime Minister made clear when he first announced his plans on February 22.
The news comes as it was revealed more than 20 million people have had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in the UK.
Boris Johnson hailed the “huge national achievement” while praising the NHS, volunteers and armed forces for their work in the vaccine roll-out.
Meanwhile, vaccines for people over 40 will begin this month as Britain delivers jabs to more than 20 million adults, The Telegraph reported.
Health officials are about to send the last batch of invites to those over 60, the report added.
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CHANCELLOR TO UNVEIL £5BILLION RESCUE FUND FOR THE HIGH STREET
He is due to deliver his Budget statement on Wednesday (March 3), including extensions to existing support schemes like furlough.
It is not expected that any consumer voucher scheme would be announced while most shops and businesses are banned from opening under lockdown rules.
SHOP OUT TO HELP OUT SCHEME BEING LOOKED AT BY GOVERNMENT
Vouchers encouraging shoppers to get back on to the high street are being looked at by the government.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak was today asked about the return of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme on Times Radio – and if there would be a similar scheme for shopping.
WHAT IS THE BRAZILIAN P.1 VARIANT? (CONTINUED)
The E484K mutation is present in the South African and Bristol strains.
The E484K mutation is thought to help the virus bypass the immune protection provided by prior infection or vaccination through antibodies.
Scientists analysing the Brazilian variant say the mutations it shares with the South African variant seem to be associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where previous attack rates are thought to be very high.
They say it is therefore essential to rapidly investigate whether there is an increased rate of re-infection in previously exposed individuals.
EXPLAINED: WHAT IS THE P.1 BRAZILIAN VARIANT?
The new Brazilian variant (P.1) carries three key mutations that affect the spike protein. The spike protein is the part of the virus, SARS-Cov-2, that attaches to human cells and allows the virus to infect the body.As a result, it is the part of the virus that the Covid vaccines are designed to target.
That’s why scientists believe while the jabs should still work, they could be less effective against the Brazilian and South African strains. Experts first detected the P.1 variant in Manaus, north Brazil, in December.
It is not yet known if the mutation causes more severe Covid-19, but evidence suggests it may be more transmissible. Porton Down scientists are conducting more analysis to confirm evidence that indicates the strain does not cause any higher mortality rate or that it affects the vaccines or treatments.
It was detected in Brazil and in travellers from Brazil to Japan, and contains a unique constellation of lineage defining mutations.
Like the South African variant, the Brazilian one carries a mutation in the spike protein called E484K, which is not present in the original UK strain, or the widely circulating Kent strain.
IVORY COAST CITIZENS TO BE FIRST IN THE WORLD VACCINATED THROUGH COVAX
The first people in the world to be vaccinated against coronavirus under the Covax initiative are to get jabs in the Ivory Coast.
The rollout in the West African nation was due to begin on Monday, under the international initiative to vaccinate some of the most vulnerable people.
Some 504,000 of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in the commercial capital of Abidjan on Friday as part of the scheme to which the UK is committing £548 million in aid funding.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Today, with UK aid support, people in Cote d’Ivoire are the first to receive vaccinations through Covax – the biggest ever global vaccine campaign to end the pandemic.
“We’re proud to be one of the biggest donors to Covax, securing over one billion doses for the most vulnerable around the world. We do it because we want to be a force for good in the world, and because we need a global solution to a global pandemic.”
SCHOOL STAFF IN ENGLAND NOT MORE LIKELY TO TEST POSITIVE FOR COVID ANTIBODIES THAN WORKIG-AGE ADULTS – STUDY
School staff in England are not more likely to test positive for coronavirus antibodies than working-age adults, new figures suggest.
Of the 121 schools in the survey, 14.99% of school staff tested positive for antibodies between December 2 and 10, lower than the estimate of 18.22% for working-age adults, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The small sample of schools also found 14.61% of primary school staff tested positive for antibodies compared with 15.72% of secondary staff.
BREAKING: FEARS BRAZILIAN VARIANT COULD DELAY LOCKDOWN LIFT
THE Brazilian variant of Coronavirus could force Britain to delay the lifting of lockdown and even “go backwards” by reimposing some restrictions, a top scientist warned today.
Professor Graham Medley, who sits on the Sage group that advises the Government, said the PM will have to balance the risk posed by mutant strains with the need to reopen the economy.
SCOTTISH HEALTH SECRETARY TO HOLD COVID BRIEFING AT MIDDAY
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman will hold a coronavirus briefing at 12.15pm with chief medical officer Gregor Smith.
GHANA PRESIDENT RECEIVES WORLD’S FIRST FREE COVAX JAB
Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo on Monday became the world’s first recipient of the coronavirus vaccine from Covax, a global scheme to procure and distribute inoculations for free for poorer countries.
“It is important that I set the example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it, so that everybody in Ghana can feel comfortable about taking this vaccine,” the 76-year old president said before receiving a shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in a live broadcast.
SCIENCTISTS ‘OPTIMISTIC’ VACCINES WILL PREVENT SEVERE DISEASE WHEN TESTED AGAINST NEW COVID-19 VARIANTS
Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said scientists are “optimistic” that the Covid-19 vaccines will still prevent severe disease when tested against new variants.
And all the vaccine manufacturers are working on preliminary steps to revise their jabs, he added.
He told BBC Breakfast: “At the moment, the evidence we have suggests that certainly the South African variant, and potentially this Brazilian variant – which is somewhat similar – the vaccines that we have at the moment are less effective at reducing at least mild disease and possibly transmission.
“We’re optimistic that the vaccines will continue to prevent severe disease but the evidence for that is still fairly limited. I think all the manufacturers are now working on the preliminary steps, if you like, to revising the vaccines if that proves necessary.
“But for the moment the vaccines that we’re using are very effective against the strains that are predominantly circulating in the UK and it’s important that people understand that that’s still the case because we do need people to get immunised as fast as possible to get things under control.”
CARE WORKER TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID TWICE IN SEVEN MONTHS
A care worker warned about the risks of catching coronavirus multiple times – after she tested positive for the virus twice in seven months.
Michelle Lamont, 50, from Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, first tested positive for Covid-19 in April last year and said it was ‘the worst she’d ever felt’.
The mother-of-three initially felt lethargic while working on a late shift and was devastated after she tested positive for the virus.
She lost her taste and smell and felt weak and breathless, and other symptoms included palpitations, a headache and a loss of appetite.
Michelle said: “It was the worst I’d ever felt. Moving from my bed to the bathroom in my room was like doing a marathon. While I was lying in bed, I was worried I’d pass it on to my family.
“My oldest daughter helped look after me. She’d wear PPE and would clean door handles, she amazing but it was a total role reversal.”
VACCINE MINISTER DEFENDS UK BORDER CONTROLS WHEN ACCUSED OF ‘DITHERING’ OVER QUARANTINE MEASURES
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the UK’s border controls, when asked if the Government had “dithered” over implementing hotel quarantine measures.
“I would say to you that the border controls that we have are pretty stringent,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Even countries that had hotel quarantine, like Australia, still have to deal with the variants actually challenging them in the same way they challenge us.”
PHE LOOKING FOR PERSON WHO MAY HAVE TAKEN HOME TEST
Dr Susan Hopkins, strategic response director at Public Health England, said the person PHE wishes to identify may have taken a home test and could be helped in locating their results and given further advice.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re making an appeal for anyone out there who was tested on February 12 and 13, probably by a home test or a test that was a drop and collect from a local authority system, and may not have completed the form completely online, or may have thought they did, but still hasn’t got their results.
“We are looking at where that test may have been sent from and to, working with the postal services, and the courier services.
“We’re also looking to try and track where exactly that sample may have been sent to on a local authority system.
“But I think the public appeal is also a belt and braces approach to ensure that we’ve gone through every option to find this individual.”
MARCH SET TO BE A ‘BIG MONTH’ FOR VACCINATIONS ROLL OUT
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said March will be a “very big month” for vaccinations.
“We have already been for now over 10 days reserving second doses,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“You have seen the numbers tick up of second doses – yesterday I think we were at 800,000 second doses.
“And in March you will see that number increase even more, because obviously those who had the first dose in January will be getting their second dose.
“The NHS have got all the protocols in place to deliver that, as well as of course continuing to do the first dose. March will be a very big month for us. We’ll probably going to be twice the rate over the next 10 weeks as we have done over the past 10 or 11 weeks.”
VACCINES MINISTER CONFIDENT OF SUPPLY
The UK is confident it has sufficient supplies of both Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, Minister for Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi said on Monday.
Zahawi said the United Kingdom’s vaccine rollout would accelerate in March – at around twice the rate of the past 10 weeks.
“I see the vaccine supply numbers coming in – I’m very confident that we’ve got the supplies of Pfizer and AstraZeneca and soon of course to come other vaccines like Moderna as well,” Zahawi told the BBC.
RUSSIA REPORTS 11,571 NEW CORONAVIRUS CASES, 333 DEATHS
Russia on Monday reported 11,571 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 2,097 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,257,650.
The country also reported another 333 deaths, raising the official toll to 86,455.
AUTHORITIES ARE WORKING WITH THE POSTAL SERVICE TO FIND PERSON INFECTED WITH BRAZILIAN VARIANT
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said authorities were working with the postal service to locate a person infected with a concerning variant of coronavirus first found in Brazil.
Asked if it is known if the person had travelled to the UK or contracted the virus here, he told BBC Breakfast: “We don’t. Part of the reason why we want to locate them quickly is to understand more about them and their movements.
“They could have had a home test kit or a test kit provided to them by their local authority. But they didn’t fill in the contact details.
“We are working with the postal service to try and get other data to try and locate them, and this appeal is a belt and braces to try and make sure we locate them as quickly as possible.”
‘SOMEWHAT WORRIED, NOT TOTAL PANIC’ OVER P.1 BRAZILIAN VARIANT
Asked about how worried people should be about the Brazilian variant, Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College, told Times Radio: “Somewhat worried but not total panic, perhaps.
“It’s somewhat more worrying than the UK variant, the Kent variant, that we’re used to talking about, because it covers the double whammy, we think, of being more transmissible and somewhat better at evading neutralising antibodies.”
On what it would mean for the vaccination programme if the variant became widespread, he added: “The way I think about it is it’s a bit like, and I think about the effect that the Kent variant had on us, it just slowed everything up because suddenly things started to get a little bit worse again, and you know the end seemed a little bit further away.
“When I look at the data on how well this variant gets neutralised, it’s not that all immunity is gone, it’s that the vaccines look so much less potent, so there’ll be more people who have low antibody responses where it can break through and get affected. It all comes back much harder.”
HUNT FOR MYSTERY PERSON WITH CONCERNING BRAZILIAN VARIANT OF CORONAVIRUS
A hunt is under way to locate one of the first people in the UK believed to have contracted the Manaus variant of coronavirus, a new strain that may spread more rapidly and respond less well to existing vaccines.
Public Health England (PHE) said on Sunday that six cases of the concerning P.1 variant first detected in the Brazilian city have been confirmed in Britain, three in England and three in Scotland.
Two were confirmed in South Gloucestershire but the third English case has not been located and could be anywhere in the nation, with PHE saying the person did not complete their test registration card so their contact details are absent.
Anyone who took a test on February 12 or 13 and has not received a result, or has an uncompleted test registration card, is being asked to come forward immediately, as health officials scramble to track down the individual.
Schools could scrap ‘live’ online lessons for two weeks as teachers divert resources to test secondary pupils for Covid.
A mass testing blitz launches today with 32 million kits being posted to families with school-age kids in a bid to get students back in classrooms from March 8.
Secondary and college pupils will be tested with lateral flow tests twice a week.
But head teachers have said all this extra work will mean interactive lessons will need to cut, The Telegraph reports.
Some students, especially those aged 12 to 14, may not return to school until as late as March 19 because of the time taken to test other year groups – but their online teaching may take a hit while they wait.
The Health Secretary is set to hold a cross-party briefing this morning to discuss cases of the Brazilian variant in Britain.
Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour Matt Hancock would hold the crunch talks on Monday morning.
Health officials have identified six cases of the variant in the UK, but only know who five of them are – urging the sixth person to come forward.
Three of the people with the new strain were detected on Friday in England, while three were found in Scotland on Saturday.
Rishi Sunak will extend the VAT cut on pubs and restaurants until at least June, The Sun can reveal.
And the five per cent rate may carry on for the rest of the year as businesses reopen.
Treasury sources told The Sun that the extension for the hospitality industry was deemed part of the pandemic package and would continue until the end of the lockdown exit plan which will see outdoor hospitality open on April 12.
Mr Sunak yesterday reassured the industry he was looking out for them, after hearing from campaigning pub landlord and ex-model Jodie Kidd.
Brits scoffed a record-breaking eight billion eggs in the past year as the lockdown baking boom sent sales soaring.
Shoppers splurged nearly £1.2billion on the protein-packed favourite in 2020 — a leap of more than a quarter from £950million the year before.
They bought 7.9 billion eggs in the 12 months ending in January, market research company Kantar said.
The total was up by a fifth from 6.6billion sold in 2019 and the highest on record.
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