A scientist has stated that one of two COVID-19 variants thought to have emerged in Brazil has been detected in the UK.
The variant of concern is distinct from those which emerged in Kent, in the UK, and in South Africa, but shares some key mutations.
Changes to the virus are thought to make it better at attaching to human cells, and therefore more infectious.
Travellers from South America were banned from entering the UK on Friday.
It comes hours after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC he was “not aware” of any cases of the Brazilian COVID-19 variant in the UK.
Asked if the Brazilian strain was currently in the country, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Not as far as we are aware, I think, at this stage.”
But Prof Wendy Barclay, who is heading a newly-launched project to study the effects of emerging COVID-19 mutations called the G2P-UK National Virology Consortium, said, “There are two different types of Brazilian variants and one of them has been detected and one of them has not.”
Prof Barclay, who also sits on Nervtag, a committee which advises government on new and emerging respiratory virus threats, said the variant was “probably introduced some time ago” and it “will be being traced very carefully”.
“Despite other variants entering the country since, the Kent variant remains dominant in the UK and is believed to be 30-50% more infectious than the previous form of the virus.
“Viruses acquire random changes to their genes constantly as they replicate.
“Many are neutral or even hurt the virus’s ability to spread, but those that give it an advantage will become more common.
“We are beginning to detect mutations now because enough time has passed for those random changes to take hold.
“Even though there is no evidence any of these mutations make the virus more deadly, a virus that infects more people is likely to have a higher death toll.
“Because the virus is better at sticking on and breaking into human cells, in theory, someone exposed to the same dose is more likely to become ill.
“The use of masks and personal protective equipment, social distancing and hand washing remain the best defences against the virus’s spread.”
Mr Shapps described the travel ban as a “precautionary” measure.
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