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'Where are they?!' Zahawi grilled as search for Manaus variant 'patient zero' continues

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Public Health England (PHE) confirmed on Sunday three cases of the “concerning” Manaus variant of Covid had been detected in England. Health Officials noted two of the people carrying the strain had been located in South Gloucestershire but the third had yet to be found as they failed to complete their test registration card. Nadhim Zahawi was confronted about the failure to track the “patient zero” as BBC Breakfast host Dan Walker challenged border security arrangements currently in place across the UK.

Mr Walker said: “You are telling us this morning that you don’t know where they are. You don’t know where they are, you’re struggling to trace that test back to them.

“How concerned should our viewers be not only about this variant but future variants as well? We are not trying to shock or scare our viewers, but you’re the minister of vaccination so what sort of things should we be thinking about?”

The Conservative MP said: “The one thing viewers should think about is that the coronavirus, doesn’t matter which variant it is, will spread in the same way i.e. close social contact.

“You have to remember we are still in this period where we want to bring infections down much further while we vaccinate at pace.”

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Mr Zahawi also urged anyone who undertook a coronavirus test between February 12 and 13 who had yet to receive their results to contact 119 in England and 0300 303 2713 in Scotland.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College, said it looks likely the Brazilian variant is “breaking through” antibodies built up by previous infection.

Citing research on the Brazilian city of Manaus, published in The Lancet, he said: “It was expected that there would be quite a high level of protection there because analysis of antibodies in blood bank samples showed [Manaus] had one of the highest levels of immunity in the world coming into the second wave, perhaps more than 70%, and yet they’re seeing this enormous wave of reinfections.”

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The Gloucestershire cluster was said to originate 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.

It is understood there were four positive tests in total in that household, two of which were confirmed with genetic sequencing to be the P.1 variant.

But officials are awaiting the results of sequencing on the outstanding two tests to see if they were infected by the Manaus strain.

PHE and NHS Test and Trace are contacting the passengers on Swiss Air flight LX318 travelling from Sao Paulo, through Zurich, and landing in London Heathrow on February 10.



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