A second Brazilian coronavirus variant is in Britain and carrying a mutation that could allow it to infect people who have already had the virus, experts have said.
This week, the Government banned travel from Portugal and South America to prevent travellers from importing the dangerous variant – but it now appears at least one Brazilian mutation has already entered the UK.
The Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), which has been monitoring new mutations, confirmed that the P.2 variant had been detected in Britain 11 times.
Although it has not yet been classed a “variant of concern”, it does carry a mutation that helps it evade the immune system of people who have already built up resistance from an earlier infection. It is currently spreading around Rio de Janeiro and has been linked to two reinfection cases in Brazil.
The second variant is different from the P.1 lineage that is behind a huge rise in infections in the city of Manaus in Brazil and sparked the UK travel ban.
However, Professor Wendy Barclay, the head of the G2P-UK National Virology Consortium, which is studying the properties of emerging variants, said P.2 does carry the E484 mutation which is known to help the virus evade the immune system.
Speaking at the launch of the G2P-UK consortium, Prof Barclay, of Imperial College, said: “There are two different variants that are being talked about in Brazil at the moment, one that was also picked up in Japan and the other which is more prevalent in Brazil at the moment. One of them has been detected [in the UK] and one of them has not.
“And the mutations are in a place of the receptor binding domain that other studies are suggesting might impact the way that people’s antibodies see the virus.”
Prof Barclay, also a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the second Brazilian variant was introduced “some time ago” and warned that, as more people develop immunity through infection and vaccination, more mutations will naturally occur as the virus evolves.
“It’s really a critical time now, because this is exactly the time at which we might expect that variants begin to appear because the level of immunity to the virus across the world is now increasing through natural infection and through vaccination,” she said.
Confirmation that a Brazilian variant has got into the country will raise concerns that the Government should have closed the borders earlier and heighten fears that the P.1 lineage may also be here but has not yet been detected.
In a statement about the P.2 variant, a spokesman for COG-UK said it did not have other worrying mutations carried by P.1.
“The spike mutation E484 has been observed occurring independently of the other mutations seen in lineages and its presence in a lineage is not at present considered sufficient to designate it as a ‘variant of concern’,” the spokesman said. “Lineage P.2 does not contain the other important mutations carried by lineage P.1. We confirm that lineage P.2 has recently been detected in the UK.”
Brazilian variant in UK and could reinfect Covid survivors, Sage scientist warns The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ The Telegraph.