Matt Hancock press conference: Lockdown exit at risk due to Brazil variant – update today

Nadhim Zahawi quizzed on Brazilian coronavirus variant

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The Health Secretary will address the nation from No10 at 5pm tonight. He is expected to update Brits on the discovery of the Brazil variant of coronavirus in the UK which is more resistant to the vaccines.

Yesterday it emerged there were at least six cases of the mutant strain in the UK, three in England and three in Scotland.

While two of the cases in England have been confirmed in South Gloucestershire, the third person is yet to be located and could be anywhere in the country.

Public Health England have urged anyone who took a test on February 12 or 13 and has not received a result to come forward immediately as health officials start a desperate hunt to find the missing case.

Mr Hancock is expected to echo the plea for those who had a test to come forward at tonight’s press conference.

The variant, which was first seen in the Brazilian city of Manaus, is thought to be more contagious.

While vaccines still expected to stop severe illness in those who contract the strain, the jabs are thought to be less effective against mild symptoms.

Further research is being carried out to understand the exact impact of strain on vaccines.

Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has warned the discovery of the Brazil variant in the UK risked delaying the end of lockdown.

He said there was a “risk” of restrictions being re-introduced if the variant spreads more widely.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is a variant of concern but we are going to be faced with these in the next six months as we move towards relaxing measures.

“There are going to be challenges on the way and there is always a risk that we might have to go backwards.

“That’s what nobody wants to do is to actually open up and then have to close down again.

“So monitoring these variants, keeping an eye on in terms of what they actually do – so sequencing, for example, viruses in hospitals – I think is a crucial step to know whether or not this variant and other variants in the future, what impact they’re actually having.”

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Fears of the vaccine-busting mutant Covid strain come as the UK hit a major milestone in the rollout of its immunisation programme yesterday.

More than 20 million people have now had at least a first jab of a coronavirus vaccine.

The latest Government data indicates 407,503 first doses were administered on Saturday, along with 796,132 second doses.

Yesterday Mr Hancock said he was “delighted” with the achievement.

“Well over a third of all adults have now received their first dose of a Covid vaccine in every corner of the UK,” he said.

“Every jab in the arm is another life soon to be protected from this awful disease and means we are a step closer to returning to our normal lives.

“Thank you to everyone in the NHS, government, local authorities and volunteers who have been working tirelessly to make this happen.”

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi hailed the immunisation programme as a “huge success” as he paid tribute to all those involved in its rollout.

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