Fears that Covid vaccines will not work against the new South African strain of the virus have prompted the introduction of testing for new arrivals into England and Scotland from abroad, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has said.
Outlining the new testing regime for England and Scotland, he told Sky News: “This is an extra check and we’re doing this now because there are these variants that we’re very keen to keep out of the country, like the South African variant, for example.
“There are the concerns about the South African one in particular, about how effective the vaccine would be against it, so we simply cannot take chances. So today because of that variant it has become much more urgent.”
Speaking to LBC, Shapps said: “The new South African strain is worrying the experts because it may be that the vaccine doesn’t respond in the same way or doesn’t work in quite the same way.
“And if that were the case it would be a tragedy to allow that into the country. It’s much more urgent and pressing than just the, if you like, coronavirus, the classic version already here, when one or two more cases doesn’t change things dramatically. The new variant could be a big gamechanger and we don’t want to see that and that’s why now.”
He was also challenged on how the cricketer Kevin Pietersen was allowed to enter the UK without checks after arriving from South Africa.
Shapps said he did not know the details of the case, but added: “There are no flights from South Africa.” He also said that last night the government banned travel from nine southern African countries.
But Shapps’ comments came as research showed the Pfizer vaccine does protect against new strains of the virus detected in both the UK and South Africa.
In the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, blood samples were taken from 20 people who received the Pfizer vaccine. Laboratory studies found that the samples had neutralising levels of antibodies that worked against the new strains.
Shapps confirmed that new arrivals would continue to have to isolate for 10 days, as well as show proof of a negative Covid test, unless they were travelling from countries deemed safe by the government.
He said: “If you’re coming here from anywhere, whether you’re a Brit or whether you’re a foreign national, then you will need to take a Covid test up to 72 hours before you come here. It doesn’t change the other things that you’ll need to do, in other words, the quarantine, if you’re coming from somewhere which isn’t on the travel corridor.”
Shapps also predicted Wales and Northern Ireland would introduce testing for new arrivals in the coming days. “I suspect it will be a UK-wide requirement from some point next week,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually detect the majority of asymptomatic cases, the thing which does sort that out, is isolation or quarantine. That’s the thing which is still the gold standard and still, I’m afraid to be part of the solution here.”
Shapps defended the government against allegations it should have closed the border before, saying the UK as an island needed the movement of goods and people.
“Look what happened in the United States, for example, where last March they entirely closed the border,” he said. “It hasn’t helped them at all, not one iota.”
News – Fears Covid vaccines would not work against South Africa variant led to travel curbs