The UK has identified 77 cases of South African coronavirus variant and nine of a Brazilian mutant, it was revealed today – amid warnings the virus is changing so fast new vaccines might be needed every year.
Matt Hancock said the cases were being kept under ‘very close observation’ stressing that they appeared to be linked to travellers – amid a Cabinet row over how to tighten border rules.
‘They are under very close observation, and we have enhanced contact tracing to do everything we possibly can to stop them from spreading,’ the Health Secretary said.
The figures emerged as Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the country will need to ‘get used to’ living with coronavirus.
Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday he said: ‘I think we have to get used to this.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said the country will need to ‘get used to’ living with coronavirus
Infections in the UK spiked after a more transmissible variant was identified in Kent
Matt Hancock said the cases were being kept under ‘very close observation’ stressing that they appeared to be linked to travellers
Hancock pushes for tougher border rules
Matt Hancock today fuelled Cabinet tensions over a UK border crackdown urging ‘precautionary’ action against Covid variants that have not been detected yet – amid claims the PM wants a more targeted approach.
The Health Secretary gave a strong hint he favours blanket curbs on arrivals ahead of a showdown in a key committee on Tuesday. He also said 77 cases of the South African variant, all linked to travellers, and nine of a Brazilian variant have been identified in the UK.
The key ‘Covid O’ group of ministers are expected to meet to thrash out a tightening, but ‘hawks’ such as Mr Hancock, Michael Gove and Priti Patel have been wrangling with ‘doves’ such as Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
There are calls for all arrivals to be forced into Australia-style ‘quarantine hotels’ at airports for 10 days at their own expense – and a full border shutdown for foreign passengers has not been ruled out.
Sources told the Mail on Sunday that Boris Johnson favours targeting the restrictions on Covid hotspots rather than making all air passengers quarantine.
However, in a sign of the tensions, one Cabinet ‘hawk’ told MailOnline that the policy will be ‘worthless’ unless it covers all arrivals to the UK.
‘We are living in a world where coronavirus is so prevalent and rapidly mutating there are going to be new variants that pop up in all sorts of different countries.
‘We may well be in a situation where we have to have an annual coronavirus vaccine much like we do with the flu vaccine, but the public should be reassured that these technologies are relatively easy to edit and tweak, so once we find strains that are predominant, the vaccines can be altered.’
Earlier, Mr Hancock told the programme that work was being done with international counterparts to analyse the efficacy of the vaccine on foreign variants, but added he was more worried about further mutant strains that ‘had not been spotted’.
‘There’s probably (variants) elsewhere that simply haven’t been picked up because the country doesn’t have that genomic sequencing service,’ he said.
Mr Hancock said that tests were ongoing at Porton Down and in South Africa, adding that he wanted to see the UK’s genomic sequencing capability ‘made available across the world’ so that emerging variants could be caught.
‘In the meantime we’ve got to have a precautionary principle… so we’ve introduced pre-departure testing and we’ve also introduced checks on everybody to check that that has happened,’ he said.
‘It is absolutely vital that we protect this country from a variant that is not as well dealt with by the vaccine.
‘We cannot risk the progress we have made.’
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance previously said there was ‘no evidence that the South African or Brazilian variants’ were more transmissible than the new UK strain.
But he said: ‘It is the case that both the South African and Brazilian identified variants have more differences in shape which might mean they are recognised differently by antibodies.’
‘I think it is too early to know the effect that will have on the vaccination in people and it is worth remembering that the response of the vaccine is very, very high antibody levels, so they may overcome some of this.’
Boris Johnson is set to compel visitors from high-risk Covid countries to quarantine for ten days, The Mail on Sunday understands. Pictured: Crowds at London’s Heathrow Airport
Cabinet ‘doves’ such as Rishi Sunak (right) and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (left) have been voicing caution about tightening borders too far