World

Travel ban over Brazilian variant precautionary, U.K. transport minister says

A Brazilian variant of the coronavirus is significant enough to justify stopping flights from South America as a precaution, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday, as a leading scientist said it had been detected in Britain.

Britain will bar flights from South American countries and Portugal

A new coronavirus variant spreads through Brazil

11 months ago
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Three COVID-19 variants are now worrying health officials. The ones first identified in Britain and South Africa are already here. The third is spreading fast in Brazil and beyond. It may be better at dodging the immune response, and even reinfecting survivors. 3:36

A Brazilian variant of the coronavirus is significant enough to justify stopping flights from South America as a precaution, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday, as a leading scientist said it had been detected in Britain.

Britain will ban arrivals from South American countries and Portugal because of concerns over the new Brazilian variant.

The Brazilian variant shares some characteristics with those found in Britain and South Africa, which are believed by scientists to be more transmissible but not to cause more severe disease.

"As with the variant that we saw in Kent [southern England] or the one in South Africa, it's significantly enough of interest to us just to take this precautionary approach of stopping all those flights from Brazil [and] South America," Shapps told Sky News.

"Our scientists aren't saying that the vaccine won't work against it ... [but] we do not want to be tripping up at this last moment [of vaccine rollout], which is why I took the decision as an extra precaution to ban those flights."

U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, seen here in a photo taken Dec. 21, 2020, said Britain has banned flights from South America out of concern over a new variant of the coronavirus. (Tolga Akmen/Reuters)

Shapps later said scientists believed vaccines would work on the Brazilian variant, going further than the government's chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.

Vallance on Wednesday said there wasn't evidence vaccines wouldn't work but said the Brazilian variant was more of a risk and "we don't know" if it would affect the immune response.

A leading British virologist said the Brazilian variant had been traced in Britain.

"There are two different types of Brazilian variants and one of them has been detected [in the U.K.] and one of them has not," Wendy Barclay, virologist at Imperial College London, told journalists, adding it was "early days" in the understanding of the variants.

Along with U.K. and South African variants, the Brazilian variant is "of concern" and would be "traced very carefully," she said.

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