UK Covid: travel bans expected amid concerns over Brazil coronavirus strain

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Good morning. The cabinet office minister, Michael Gove, will chair a meeting to discuss Covid O today, which is expected to agree a ban on direct flights between Brazil and the UK, amid concerns over the new highly transmissible coronavirus strain in the south American country. This morning’s papers suggest Boris Johnson is also preparing to halt flights to and from all of Brazil’s neighbouring 10 countries.

The UK’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance warned last night that scientists could not be sure whether the three vaccines approved in the UK would work on the Brazilian strain, or on the South African one. He told ITV News’s political editor, Robert Peston:

There’s a bit more of a risk that this might make a change to the way the immune system recognises it but we don’t know. Those experiments are underway.

But he did say that, if necessary, it should be “relatively easy” to modify the vaccine accordingly.

Meanwhile, late last night, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps announced a new rule requiring international arrivals to have a negative coronavirus test, due to come into effect tomorrow, would be delayed until next week to allow “time to prepare” for businesses. Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP who chairs the home affairs select committee, called the delay “truly shocking”.

Some experts have been calling for tougher restrictions at UK borders since the very start of the pandemic last year.

It was another sobering day yesterday, with 1,564 reported deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

It takes the total number of UK Covid deaths to 101,160 and means almost one in every 660 people in the UK have died from Covid or Covid-related causes so far during the pandemic – or about one-in-six of all deaths.

In better news, Vallance told Peston the lockdown restrictions are “making a difference”. He said: “Things are at least flattening off in some places, not everywhere.” However, he did warn we are in for “a pretty grim period”, with high death numbers to carry on “for some weeks”.

There is more positive news from a Public Health England study, which suggests people who recover from coronavirus have a similar level of protection against future infection as those who receive a Covid vaccine, at least for the first five months. However, it found it was still possible to catch the virus again and potentially spread it to others.

Here is the agenda today:
The aforementioned cabinet meeting discussing the Brazilian Covid variant is being held.

Reports suggest that it is unlikely to announce any tougher restrictions within UK borders.

2pm – Coronavirus all party parliamentary group leader Layla Moran will lead the first-ever Commons debate on long Covid.

This will be followed by an adjournment debate on whether vitamin D helps mitigate Covid, led by David Davis, who has been campaigning passionately on this issue.

Labour leader Keir Starmer is on a visit to a vaccination centre in Stevenage where he will call for the country’s 11,500 pharmacies to help deliver a 24/7 vaccine programme. The government announced today that 200 pharmacies will be start vaccinating people over the next two weeks.

I will also be covering all the breaking UK Covid news, as well as non-Covid political stories if of particular import.

The easiest way to get in touch with me is via the following channels:
Twitter: @Haroon_Siddique
Email: haroon[dot]siddique[at]theguardian[dot]com

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