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Race to track down UK patient infected with Brazil Covid strain

Officials appeal for anyone without result from test done on 12 or 13 February to come forward

Health officials are hunting for a mystery UK patient who failed to give their personal details before having a Covid test that detected a highly transmissible variant first found in Brazil.

The individual is one of three people in England confirmed to be infected with the P1 variant, with a further three cases reported in Scotland. Two of the cases in England are from one household in South Gloucestershire, where surge testing has been launched.

But “the third is a person who took a test on February 12 or 13 but did not complete the test registration card so cannot be contacted”, The Times reports. “Officials are urging anyone who took a test on these dates but has not received a result to call 119 immediately.”

Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace are also contacting passengers who arrived at London Heathrow on 10 February on Swiss Air flight LX318 from Sao Paulo, via Zurich.

What are the implications for the UK?

The arrival of the Brazil strain has triggered “urgent calls for tougher border measures”,  The Guardian reports.

The newly detected cases have also fuelled criticism over the delay in implementing rules requiring all new arrivals to the UK to quarantine in government-approved hotels for ten days. The policy came into force on 15 February and applies to all international arrivals in Scotland, while in England the rule applies only to arrivals from 33 “red list” countries.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the “deeply concerned” news that the Brazil Covid strain has been detected in the UK is “further proof that the delay in introducing a hotel quarantine was reckless”.

“The continuing refusal to put in place a comprehensive system leaves us exposed to mutations coming from overseas,” he added.

Whether the Brazil strain is more transmissible or causes a more serious infection than other Covid variants is “unclear”, says Sky News.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Brazil variant’s profile “may affect the ability of antibodies generated through a previous natural infection or through vaccination to recognise and neutralise the virus”.

Early test results suggest the Pfizer vaccine can protect against new Covid variants but slightly less effectively.

However, NHS England’s Professor Stephen Powis has said that all Covid vaccines could be “rapidly adapted” if necessary. 

In the meanwhile, it is “tempting” to hope that the UK will be able to “stamp out” the Brazil variant if officials can track down the mystery missing patient, says BBC health correspondent Nick Triggle.

“But it’s unlikely that this will be possible,” he continues. “There will no doubt be more cases either of this variant or others circulating”, so the strategy now is to “keep cases low and where possible try to limit the spread of these variants”.

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