The Royal Mail is being drafted in to help find the mystery person with the Brazil variant of Covid in England.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi says non-symptomatic testing is being rolled out in South Gloucestershire following cases of Brazilian Covid “variant of concern” adding there is “minimal” risk to the community of South Gloucestershire.
Professor Adam Finn, from the University of Bristol and a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said scientists are “optimistic” that the Covid-19 vaccines will still prevent severe disease when tested against new variants.
And all the vaccine manufacturers are working on preliminary steps to revise their jabs, he added.
He told BBC Breakfast: “At the moment, the evidence we have suggests that certainly the South African variant, and potentially this Brazilian variant – which is somewhat similar – the vaccines that we have at the moment are less effective at reducing at least mild disease and possibly transmission.
“We’re optimistic that the vaccines will continue to prevent severe disease but the evidence for that is still fairly limited.
“I think all the manufacturers are now working on the preliminary steps, if you like, to revising the vaccines if that proves necessary.
“But for the moment the vaccines that we’re using are very effective against the strains that are predominantly circulating in the UK and it’s important that people understand that that’s still the case because we do need people to get immunised as fast as possible to get things under control.”
Asked what the new variants could mean in terms of travel, Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a global problem; our Government can make decisions about what happens in the United Kingdom, but they can’t make decisions about what happens globally.
“But they can decide the extent to which we have transmission crossing borders.
“It’s a risk and the Government has to play off the risks of new variants arising somewhere else and then coming here against the harms caused by lockdown and restrictions.”
Asked if more travel would risk new variants coming into the country, he said: “It’s inevitable, the risk is never zero – places that have high levels of protection across borders are still having incursions of the virus still coming in.
“You’ve got to weigh that against what’s happening within the country – at the moment we’ve got tens of thousands of people being infected every day. and so putting a lot of effort into preventing handfuls of infections from coming overseas has to be proportionate.
“It is a global problem, and if we remain globally connected, which I think we must, then it is about the rate and the risk of this happening rather than whether it does or not.”
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said community transmission of the variant first identified in Brazil will be identified “very, very quickly” through testing.
“One of the strengths of the UK’s system is obviously our genome sequencing capability; we account for just shy of 50% of all the sequencing of the different variants of Covid-19,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We would pick up, as we have done obviously in these cases, pick up rapidly, both in terms of PCR testing capability – 800,000 capacity per day – and millions of lateral flow tests.
“We would pick up community transmission of this variant very, very rapidly, because we are able to genome sequence so quickly.”