One of two coronavirus variants first detected in Brazil has been found in the UK, says a leading scientist advising the government.
But the version discovered is not the more infectious “variant of concern”, Prof Wendy Barclay clarified.
The “variant of concern” from Brazil has been detected in travellers to Japan.
It led to travellers from South America and Portugal being banned from entering the UK on Friday.
Prof Wendy Barclay, who is heading a newly-launched project to study the effects of emerging coronavirus mutations called the G2P-UK National Virology Consortium, said: “There are two different types of Brazilian variants and one of them has been detected and one of them has not.”
Prof Barclay, who also sits on Nervtag, a committee which advises government on new and emerging respiratory virus threats, said the variant was “probably introduced some time ago” and it “will be being traced very carefully”.
She added: “The new Brazilian variant of concern, that was picked up in travellers going to Japan, has not been detected in the UK.
“Other variants that may have originated from Brazil have been previously found.”
Despite other variants entering the country since, the Kent variant remains dominant in the UK and is believed to be 30-50% more infectious than the previous form of the virus.
Viruses acquire random changes to their genes constantly as they replicate.
Many are neutral or even hurt the virus’s ability to spread, but those that give it an advantage will become more common.
We are beginning to detect mutations now because enough time has passed for those random changes to take hold.
Even though there is no evidence any of these mutations make the virus more deadly, a virus that infects more people is likely to have a higher death toll.
When the virus gets better at sticking onto and breaking into human cells, in theory someone exposed to the same dose is more likely to become ill.
The use of masks and personal protective equipment, social distancing and hand washing remain the best defences against the virus’s spread.