THE Nepal Covid variant may threaten the lifting of lockdown on June 21, as Grant Shapps warned today that the UK has to stop “any risks” before restrictions are eased.
The Transport Secretary said this afternoon “there’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the Indian variant”, which has “caused concern”.
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Portugal was added to the amber travel list today. Pictured: Passengers at Heathrow Airport
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ‘there’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the Indian variant’, which has ’caused concern’
Nepal – which neighbours India – has experienced a surge in infections
His comments came as Portugal was relegated to Britain’s amber travel list after ministers sounded the alarm about the new mutation being detected in the holiday hotspot.
Mr Shapps said: “I want to be straight with people – this is a difficult decision to make but in the end we’ve seen two things that’s caused concern.
“One is the positivity rate that has nearly doubled since the last review in Portugal.
“The other is there’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the Indian variant that’s been detected and we just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine-defeating mutation and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21 and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.”
Mr Shapps warned 68 cases of the Indian “Delta” Variant had been identified in Portugal – including examples of the emerging “Nepal mutation”.
And he said it was as yet unclear if vaccines could beat the new strain.
Whitehall sources said Public Health England were also scrambling to assess if the emerging strain is more infectious.
All lockdown restrictions are scheduled to be lifted on June 21 as part of Boris Johnson’s roadmap to freedom.
However, these plans could be threatened as it’s revealed the Indian variant is now the UK’s dominant Covid strain – with cases doubling in the past week.
New data shows the mutation infections have soared by 5,472 in a week, with the total number of cases now at 12,431.
Around 20 people in the UK are thought to be infected with the mutated “Delta” Nepal variant.
A spokesman said: “[The] ‘Nepal’ variant is Delta with a K417N mutation.”
‘POTENTIALLY DEADLY’ NEPAL VARIANT
THE so-called Nepal variant is a combination of the Kent and Indian mutations – making it potentially deadly.
The new strain has the super-spreading ability of the Indian “Delta” variant with an extra mutation, known as K417N, like the Kent “Beta” one.
Dr Jeff Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said this may make it highly transmissible and “less well neutralised by vaccines”.
He said: “Because of this possibility, scientists are monitoring it carefully.”The new variant, informally known as “Delta+K417N”, has been seen in numerous countries including the UK, Portugal, USA and India.
It has also been observed once in Nepal and 14 times in Japan, of which 13 were samples from airport quarantine from travellers from Nepal.Just 91 cases in total have been seen worldwide.
A member of the government’s SAGE committee of experts said people should not be too concerned, adding: “There are thousands of variants. This is a virus that is changing all the time.”
Meanwhile, Portugal’s infection rate has been doubling since it was moved to the green list on May 17.
The country will be shoved onto the amber list at 4am on June 8.
Amid a furious backlash from hard-hit airlines, the minister acknowledged the travel industry had “suffered” but defended his “difficult” decision.
It is a bitter blow for holidaymakers who made bookings after Portugal became one of the only European hotpots on the green list from May 17.
Today’s decision to turn it amber means anyone coming back will now have to isolate for ten days when they get home.
Anyone coming into the country will already have to show a negative Covid test, and pay for more in the days after they land back in Britain.
Portugal will be added to the amber list this month
Portugal will be added to the amber travel list