TWO new mutant strains of Covid have been detected in the UK, sparking a race to develop booster jabs.
But in a fresh lift in the battle against the virus, research discovered a single dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could slash transmission by 67 per cent.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock takes a Covid swab test before heading into Parliament todayCredit: PA:Press Association
Both new variants — found in Bristol and Liverpool — have the E484K mutation which scientists fear reduces protection provided by current vaccines.
It is the same change that is causing the most concern in the South African and Brazilian variants.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the threat, with government scientists and pharma firms now working on booster doses against these new mutations.
It comes just a day after it was revealed 11 rogue cases of the South African strain, with no links to foreign travel, were detected across eight postcodes in England.
A door-to-door testing blitz has now been escalated to Bristol and Liverpool, with around 1.5million people living in areas affected by the new Covid variants.
It comes after:
Volunteers were seen distributing test kits this morning in Surrey through letter boxes after ministers urged residents to not leave their homesCredit: London News Pictures
Volunteers hand out the Covid-19 home test kit to a resident in Goldsworth and St JohnsCredit: Reuters
Mike Wallace is tested by his wife Natasha at their home in Woking, Surrey, todayCredit: Darren Fletcher Photography – The Sun
Mr Hancock has said residents in those areas should leave home only if they absolutely must.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan encouraged people to raid their cupboards for food rather than go to the shops and to exercise at home.
She said: “The time is now for them to have extra conversations with their employers, for them to consider: do they really need to go to the shops or could they have what they’ve got in their house?
“And do they need to go outside to exercise — could they do that indoors?”
The plea came as scientists at Oxford University said the jabs rollout — which topped 9.6million doses yesterday — may have already begun to stop the virus spreading.
They found a 67 per cent drop in positive swabs among those vaccinated meaning they cannot pass the bug on.
Their findings were published in Preprints with The Lancet journal.
They also revealed just one jab gives 76 per cent protection for three months.
That backs up the Government’s policy for Brits to wait 12 weeks for a second dose to get more jabs into arms as fast as possible.
Volunteers go door-to-door with testing kits for people in Surrey wearing protective face coverings Credit: SWNS:South West News Service
A man uses a swab at an asymptomatic coronavirus testing centre at Walsall College in the West MidlandsCredit: PA:Press Association
Healthcare workers oversee the Covid-19 swab test process in Ealing this morningCredit: Reuters
Mr Hancock said: “This is a hugely encouraging study and further reinforces our confidence that vaccines are capable of reducing transmission.”
Meanwhile, Public Health England has so far found 11 cases of the new variant in Bristol, where the more contagious Kent strain has adapted to include the E484K tweak.
And a cluster of 32 infections in Liverpool also have the same mutation, but relate to the original Covid strain.
Current vaccines are less likely to work against these infections.
A PHE spokesman said: “We are monitoring the situation closely and all necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, including enhanced contact tracing and control measures.”
New Cambridge University research reveals the Pfizer jab is likely to be less effective against the E484K mutation.
Lab tests show ten times more antibodies were needed to prevent infection from these variants.
Lines of people were seen in West London this morning as they waited to get their Covid test Credit: Jon Bond – The Sun
People in Ealing were this morning seen getting their tests at the new siteCredit: London News Pictures
But the vaccine was good at neutralising the Kent strain behind the majority of current cases.
Lead researcher Professor Ravi Gupta said the race was now on to develop booster jabs.
Prof Gupta, who also sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said updated immunisations could be available this autumn.
He told The Sun: “We need to be looking down the road now, and we know what to do with our next set of vaccines. The next generation of vaccines need to have these key mutations engineered into them.
“It shouldn’t be too hard. It should take six months to sort this out, so that we have them before next winter.”
The Cambridge team also found that one shot of the Pfizer jab may not be enough to protect over-80s against new mutations.
Mr Hancock told MPs work was under way on updated vaccines for these strains.
A member of the public is seen carrying out a test at a new Variant Testing Centre in Ealing, West LondonCredit: London News Pictures
People in Merseyside are seen lining up for a Covid test this morningCredit: The Press Association
A member of the public is seen getting a test in Ealing this morning, hand sanitiser and cleaning equipment is seen on the tables Credit: London News Pictures
Moderna, whose jab has been approved for UK use, has already started work on a tweaked immunisation against E484K.
A major door-to-door testing blitz on up to 350,000 people launched yesterday in a fightback against the new strains in hotspot areas.
Hundreds were handed out in the towns of Woking in Surrey and Maidstone in Kent.
Cops, firefighters and volunteers knocked on doors, stepped back and delivered a letter asking if the residents wanted a testing kit.
Retired school teacher Alan Althorp, 89, told The Sun: “This is fantastic.”
And there was a moment of comical relief as a man in a clown mask answered the door in Woking.
People in Maidstone were seen lining up this afternoon to receive a coronavirus swab testCredit: Paul Edwards – The Sun
When people arrive at a testing site they are being given swab to administer themselves Credit: ©Nigel Howard Media https://www.nigelhowardmedia.com
A health worker demonstrates how to use the testing kits to people arriving at a site in West London Credit: �Nigel Howard Media https://www.nigelhowardmedia.com
All residents over the age of 18 have been asked to get a test. People are pictured signing up today in BroxbourneCredit: Nick Obank – The Sun
A line of people queued up outside a swimming centre in Southport today that had been transformed into a test centre Credit: AFP or licensors
Members of the public have been urged to get a test even if they have no Covid symptoms. One man is seen taking a test this morning in EalingCredit: London News Pictures
People were seen self-administering tests this morning after cases of the South African variant were found in several areas across the UKCredit: AFP or licensors
Volunteers in Broxbourne direct cars through the new pop-up test site today Credit: Nick Obank – The Sun
A woman is seen taking a test this morning in Ealing as a volunteer looks on Credit: Jon Bond – The Sun
A new facility in Ealing opened this morning to test locals Credit: AP:Associated Press
Volunteers are seen unloading boxes of test kits at a site in Woking this morning Credit: Reuters
Volunteers in Ealing this morning were seen in high-vis vests and face masks Credit: London News Pictures
Social distancing is in place at the test sites in England, people were seen swabbing in Ealing this morning Credit: Reuters
Q&A on the South African variant
Q: WHAT IS THE NEW VARIANT?
A: The B.1.351 South African variant is a new strain of the coronavirus with eight mutations. It was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in October 2020. It now makes up more than 90 per cent of Covid cases in South Africa and has spread to 20 more countries, including the UK.
Q: WHY IS IT SO CONTAGIOUS?
A: It spreads about 60-70 per cent faster than the original strain. This is because it can bind to human cells quickly and infect them more easily due to its mutations.
Q: WHY ARE WE MORE WORRIED ABOUT IT?
A: The speed of its spread means that if we don’t contain an outbreak quickly there would likely be a spike in cases and the NHS might become overwhelmed again. It is also thought that Covid-19 vaccines may be less effective against it.
Q: IS IT MORE DEADLY THAN THE ORIGINAL STRAIN?
A: It is not currently thought to be more deadly. Although it spreads faster, there is not enough data to suggest it causes more deaths or hospitalisations.
Q: HOW CAN WE STOP IT?
A: We have banned travellers from coming into England from South Africa. If they are still able to enter the country, as British and Irish nationals are, they must self-isolate for ten days. The vaccine roll-out will also provide immunity against the strain, although potentially at a lower level.
Q: WHAT DO I DO IF I LIVE IN A POSTCODE AREA WHERE THERE ARE CASES OF THIS VARIANT FOUND?
A: You must take up any offer of tests given to you — either from a door knock or a mobile test centre. If you have any symptoms or test positive you must isolate. Otherwise, continue washing hands, covering your face and giving space.
The Sun says
NOTHING must undermine the extraordinary success of our vaccine rollout.
That means combating anti-vax idiots, among them the President of France, spreading lies about AstraZeneca’s jab.
It means encouraging the ethnic minority community leaders already doing admirable work to convince those who still doubt the vaccines’ safety.
But it must surely mean closing our borders, temporarily but immediately, not just to countries deemed higher risk but to all (with a small number of exemptions for certain jobs).
We are told our jabs should work against the worrying South African Covid variant. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s insistence that those in certain postcodes get tested, even without symptoms, betrays his nervousness.
Other new strains must be kept out, especially with so many still unjabbed.
Every day, that number falls at a fantastic rate. Almost a million people were inoculated at the weekend alone.
That, like Britain’s commitment to donate excess vaccines to nations in need, is a cause for huge pride.
We must do nothing to set it back.