The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed concerns about the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant reported in Brazil.
Mr Johnson told a UK parliament committee 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.
Pressed by the opposition on whether this means a travel ban being imposed on Brazil, Mr Johnson said: “We are taking steps to ensure that we do not see the import of this new variant from Brazil.”
The UK Government banned direct flights from South Africa after a new and concerning variant emerged there.
International attention was drawn to the new variant after Japan's Health Ministry announced its detection on Sunday and reported it to the World Health Organisation after the arrival from Brazil of a number of individuals infected with the strain.
A ministry official said studies were underway into the efficacy of vaccines against the new variant, which differs from highly infectious variants first found in Britain and South Africa that have driven a surge in cases.
“At the moment, there is no proof showing the new variant found in those from Brazil is high in infectiousness,” Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, told a health ministry briefing.
Still, Brazil’s Health Ministry said it has been notified by Japan’s authorities that the new variant has 12 mutations, and one of them has already been identified also in the variants found in the United Kingdom and in South Africa. “It implies in a potential higher virus infectiousness,” it said.
Of the four travellers who arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on January 2, a man in his forties had a problem breathing, a woman in her thirties had a headache and sore throat and a man in his teens had a fever, while a woman in her teens showed no symptoms, the health ministry said.
All travellers are in quarantine at Tokyo’s airport, Brazil’s Health Ministry said.
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,” said Professor Gupta.
-With reporting from Press Association and Reuter