A government scientific adviser has warned there is always a risk the country “might have to go backwards” after the national coronavirus lockdown is eased.
The remarks from professor Graham Medley — a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) — came as the first cases of a “concerning” coronavirus variant first detected in Brazil were found in the UK
Public Health England (PHE) said on Sunday six cases of the variant, which may spread more rapidly and may not respond as well to existing vaccines, had been found. Three of the cases were identified in England and three in Scotland.
Follow live: Hunt for UK patient with Brazil ‘variant of concern’
Pressed how worried he was regarding the detection of the Brazil variant in the UK, professor Medley told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well I think it is a variant of concern and that we are going to be faced with these in the next six months.
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“As we move towards relaxing measures then there are going to be challenges on the way. There is always a risk we might have to go backwards and that’s what no-one wants to do, is actually open up and have to close down again.
Professor Medley said it was vital the monitor the variants, including sequencing, to know the impact of new variants, as he also warned that regional variations in prevalence of the virus may pose a bigger risk.
“I think that’s in a way going to be a bigger challenge for the government going forward than the variants if I’m being completely honest,” he said.
The comments appear to cast doubt on the national strategy adopted by Boris Johnson to ease lockdown measures in England. Unveiling the government’s roadmap last week, the prime minister laid out a national relaxation of measures, rather than a return to the regional, tiered system.
The professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine added: “We are already seeing and when we start opening up, we will see more variant in terms of prevalence around different parts of the country.
“At the moment all the thinking I’ve seen has been largely national in terms of thinking about what the data are what we need to guide the process of releasing these measures, but the data will show different things in different parts of the country.
Watch: Officials hunt for person in UK with Brazil variant of Covid
“So the challenge will be what do you do in terms of opening things up when in one place it’s a good idea and other places it isn’t.”
In a separate interview, Mr Zahawi said surge testing in South Gloucestershire was beginning today as a “precautionary measure” following the detection of the Brazil variant.
Dr Susan Hopkins, the strategic director at Public Health England, said the one unidentified person with the variant may have taken a home test and could be helped in locating their results and given further advice.
“We’re making an appeal for anyone out there who was tested on February 12 and 13, probably by a home test or a test that was a drop and collect from a local authority system, and may not have completed the form completely online, or may have thought they did, but still hasn’t got their results,” she told the BBC.
Dr Hopkins added: ”We are looking at where that test may have been sent from and to, working with the postal services, and the courier services.
“We’re also looking to try and track where exactly that sample may have been sent to on a local authority system.
“But I think the public appeal is also a belt and braces approach to ensure that we’ve gone through every option to find this individual.”
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