Scotland’s national clinical director said he was “not panicking, but concerned” about the discovery of a Brazilian coronavirus variant in the UK.
A total of six cases of a mutated form of Covid-19 first detected in Manaus, Brazil, have so far been discovered in the UK: three in England and three in Scotland.
Professor Jason Leitch said enhanced contact tracing and testing has been introduced in an attempt to “interrupt chains of transmission” but he was confident there had been no community spreading in Scotland.
“Three travellers from Brazil – via quite a circuitous route – had symptoms, while they were self-isolating, so there’s no suggestion they had symptoms on the plane or were involved in lots of contacts,” Prof Leitch told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme.
He continued: “It’s the first time we [have found] this particular Brazilian strain in Scotland, and that worries us a little bit, but people shouldn’t get too concerned. [There is] no community spread, no evidence it’s gone anywhere else.
“And the reason why we’re worried scientifically is we’re not absolutely certain that this version is amenable to the natural immunity some people already have and the artificial immunity we’re creating with vaccination.”
Asked whether the vaccine would still offer protection against the variant, Prof Leitch said: “Everything we know says it’s still very effective but we just can’t be sure yet because it hasn’t been around long enough, and the trials haven’t completed.”
He insisted it was “not luck” that the variant was discovered, but due to genomic sequence testing of all positive cases from people who have travelled to high-risk areas such as Brazil or countries in southern Africa.
“We do more genetic testing than any other country in the world – we test about one in 10 of our samples at this level of prevalence,” he said.
“As the prevalence falls, of course, we can still do that number of genetic samples, so we can do a bigger percentage.”
Speaking later on Times Radio, Prof Leitch said his level of worry was “not panicking, but concerned”.
He said: “The thing I’m most worried about, of course, is the people who get positive.
“This is a proper illness, we shouldn’t forget that and the centre of all of these outbreaks are people who test positive for a serious disease.
“So we need to look after them and we need to look after their contacts and the contacts of contacts.
“But we’re confident at this point that we’ve interrupted the chains of transmission as best we can.”
Looking ahead to the next few months of the pandemic, he said: “I’m optimistic, I genuinely am.
“There is light at the end of a tunnel and it’s not a train coming to get us this time, I don’t think.
“I think, the vaccine programme has been absolutely astonishing; a testament to those who have come forward in record numbers and to the health and social care teams, the procurement people, everybody who’s rolled the programme out at such a high level.
“It’s probably the greatest logistical exercise the health services have ever had to do across the UK.
“So I’m hopeful, but I’m cautious, I want to do it slowly. because the last thing I want is to open and then close again.”
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