Now Grant Shapps confirms 'Nepal variant' after WHO denied claims of new strain
GRANT Shapps has confirmed the "Nepal variant" – hours after the World Health Organisation slapped down reports of a new mutation.
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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It comes as Portugal was moved onto the "amber" list for Brits travelling abroad, over fears for the mutated variant.
Holiday hopes for thousands will have been dashed by the move, which Mr Shapps also said was driven by a rise in Covid cases in the popular summer spot.
He 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."
Around 20 people in the UK are thought to be infected with the mutated variant, the MailOnline reports.
Public Health England has not yet confirmed UK numbers, but said today it has developed from the Indian variant with an element from the South African variant – which can evade vaccines.
A spokesman said: "[The] ‘Nepal’ variant is Delta with a K417N mutation."
Covid variants have been given new names taken from the Greek alphabet, thanks to a new labelling system from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr Jeff Barrett, Director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, added: "There have been 91 sequences observed in the GISAID database of B.1.617.2 / Delta with an additional mutation: K417N.
"This mutation is present in B.1.351 / Beta, and is believed to be part of why that variant is less well neutralised by vaccines.
"Because of this possibility, and because Delta appears more transmissible than Beta, scientists are monitoring it carefully.
“This Delta+K417N has been seen in numerous countries, including the UK, Portugal, the USA, and India.
"It has also been observed once in Nepal (which does very little sequencing), and 14 times in Japan, of which 13 are samples from airport quarantine from travellers from Nepal.”
Earlier today the WHO denied claims of a variant linked to Nepal – with health bosses instead warning the Indian strains are rife in the country.
A post on Twitter this morning read: “WHO is not aware of any new variant of SARS-CoV-2 being detected in Nepal.
"The three confirmed variants in circulation are: Alpha (B.1.1.7), Delta (B.1.617.2) and Kappa (B.1.617.1). The predominant variant currently in circulation in Nepal is Delta (B.1.617.2)."
TRAVEL PLANS SCUPPERED?
India is now seeing a second wave in Covid cases, with devastatingly high deaths and infection numbers daily.
It comes as experts and officials say the Indian mutation will likely become dominant in the UK after it began spreading rapidly during the spring.
Portugal was the first of 12 countries and territories to be rated green just three weeks ago.
However, a member of Sage said the UK need not be overly concerned just yet.
"There are thousands of variants," he said, "this is a virus that is changing all the time."
And Tory peer Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, chairman of the Airport Operators' Association, told the publication: "How many more variants have we got to be worried about?
"What matters is data and the success of our vaccination programme."
But some sources say the number of new countries opening to UK travellers will be "extremely limited" as a result of concern over the Nepal strain and the slower rollout of vaccines across Europe.
It means holidays in Europe may be restricted until August.
Ministers reportedly believe that's the month there'll be a huge reboot for travel abroad.
Mainland Spain is likely to remain on the amber list until July 20.
And Boris Johnson said he wouldn't hesitate to put more countries on the amber and red lists.
The PM said Brits must be "cautious" over their holidays.
"We've got to continue to put countries on the red list, on the amber list, when that is necessary and I want you to know we will have no hesitation in moving countries from the green list to the amber list, to the red list, if we have to do so," he said.
"The priority is to continue the vaccine rollout to protect the people of this country."
Despite concerns over the Indian strain, the PM has been told to "get on with it" and lift lockdown entirely on June 21.
Tory grandee Sir Iain Duncan Smith has told the PM to ignore "nervous scientists" and plough ahead with 'Freedom Day' as planned.
He said he has a "horrible feeling" stage four won't go ahead – because "everyone is very jittery" in the wake of Dominic Cummings' evidence about the Government response.
Urging ministers to "go ahead with June 21", he said many are listening to "nervous" scientists "peddling assumptions".
"They keep saying: 'We're going to listen to the science'," he said.
"But they're not – they're listening to the scientists. The science is what you make of it. We haven't seen any uptick in hospitalisations."
And yesterday, Mr Johnson says there is currently no good reason to delay the roadmap to freedom.
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