A MAJOR search has launched to track down a missing Covid patient who has tested positive for the mutant Brazilian strain of the virus.
Officials say “every effort is underway” to find the infected person after Public Health England today confirmed six cases of the Manaus P1 variant.
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It is thought to be more contagious and there is a chance it may not respond as well to the jab – although no vaccine data for it exists.
Three of the people with the new strain were detected on Friday in England, while three were found in Scotland yesterday.
Health officials have identified five of the cases, but an urgent alert has been issued to find the sixth as their identity and whereabouts is unknown.
They did not register their Covid test online, meaning they have not been identified.
A government spokesperson told The Sun officials are doing everything they can to find the person.
They said: “As we have done throughout this pandemic we will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the public and help prevent the spread of the virus, with strong measures in place at our borders.
“When confronted with new variants, we have taken swift action to save lives and thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities, we are finding more mutations than many other countries.
“Very occasionally we do have a test result where the individual has not provided their details.
“Every effort is underway to locate this person and in the meantime it is important people come forward for testing, continue to follow the restrictions in place and stay at home whenever possible.”
Anyone who took a test on February 12 or 13 but didn’t receive their result or has an uncompleted test registration card is urged to call 119 in England or 0300 303 2713 in Scotland for assistance as soon as possible.
The new strain has been described as “of concern” compared to the P2 variant from Brazil that has already been found in the UK.
This is because it shares important mutations with the variant first identified in South Africa.
Two patients found to have the variant are from the same household in South Gloucestershire, with surge testing being launched in the area from 9am tomorrow.
PHE said one of the people had travelled back from Brazil and passed on the disease to a family member but they have been isolating.
Their cases were followed up by the PHE Health Protection Team with their contacts identified and re-tested.
Two additional people in the same Gloucestershire household have tested positive for Covid, but gene sequencing has not yet confirmed if they have the P.1 variant.
PHE has confirmed there is no wide risk to the community and have asked residents to visit the council’s website for more information.
PHE is also urging anyone who flew on Swiss Air flight LX318 travelling from Sao Paulo to London Heathrow via Zurich on February 10 to come forward.
They are hoping to get everyone on the flight and members of their households tested.
Anyone on the flight has been asked to call 0117 450 3174 to arrange a test.
Those returning to the UK should have immediately quarantined at home for 10 days as they arrived before the hotel quarantine rules came into force on February 15.
Residents who live in five postcode areas, who are aged over 16 and do not have symptoms of Covid-19, are invited to come forward for testing from tomorrow.
People who travel into the areas – BS32 0, BS32 8, BS32 9, BS34 5 and BS34 6 – for work or to visit someone they are in a support bubble with are also able to have a test.
There will be drive-in surge testing sites as well as a locations where residents can walk in to collect a test kit to take home and complete, and the programme is expected to run for one week, ending on March 7.
Sara Blackmore, director of Public Health at South Gloucestershire Council, said: “Behave as if you are carrying the virus, stay in and only leave home if you must.”
What is the P1 Brazilian variant?
THE 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.
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.
The Scottish Government said three residents who returned to north-east Scotland from Brazil, via Paris and London, subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.
The tests, completed in early February, were passed to the UK’s sequencing programme and were identified as being the Manaus variant.
Officials are contacting the other passengers on their flight from London to Aberdeen.
The cases are not thought to be connected to the three confirmed cases in England.
Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE strategic response director for COVID-19 and NHS Test and Trace Medical Advisor said: “We have identified these cases thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are finding more variants and mutations than many other countries and are therefore able to take action quickly.
“The important thing to remember is that COVID-19, no matter what variant it is, spreads in the same way.
“That means the measures to stop it spreading do not change. Stay at home and if you do need to go out for essential reasons, cover your nose and mouth, wash your hands thoroughly and keep your distance.
“We ask that individuals come forward for testing through the symptomatic and asymptomatic test sites across the countries in order to continue to drive down cases in the community.”
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The identification of this new variant is a concern but we are taking every possible precaution.
“This new variant demonstrates how serious Covid is and reinforces the need to minimise the spread of the virus.”
The World Health Organisation has been informed of the six new cases.
There are several new variants of Covid which have spread in the UK since the end of 2020.
Boris Johnson forced England into its third national lockdown in January after a more infectious strain of Covid emerged.
The three of most concern emerged in Kent (B1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), and Brazil (P.2).
The latest addition, named B.1.525, has similarities to the Kent strain, but with several additional mutations, according to the University of Edinburgh.
Surge testing has been put in place in certain areas in the UK to monitor the spread of the new variants.
But there is evidence stricter measures – including contact tracing and tough border measures – had slowed the spread of the new strains.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the “magnificent achievement” – a huge boost in the fight against the bug as lockdown begins lifting from March 8.
Professor Stephen Powis, the NHS’s national medical director, has said coronavirus vaccines can be quickly adapted to tackle new strains.
He told BBC News: “The new vaccines which are being used for Covid can be adapted very rapidly so it’s likely that if we do need to change the vaccine that can be done in months, rather than years, which was the case with the more traditional vaccines.”
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “It is deeply concerning that the Brazil Covid variant has been found in this country.
“It is now vital that we do everything we can to contain it.
“But this is further proof that the delay in introducing a hotel quarantine was reckless and the continuing refusal to put in place a comprehensive system leaves us exposed to mutations coming from overseas.”