Fears that Covid vaccines will not work against the new South African strain of the virus have prompted the introduction of tests for newcomers to England and Scotland from abroad, said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Describing the new testing regime for England and Scotland, he told Sky News: “This is additional verification and we are doing it now because there are these variants that we are very keen to keep out of the country, like the variant, for example.
“There is concern about the South African in particular, about how effective the vaccine would be against him, so we just can’t 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 experts because it may be that the vaccine does not respond in the same way or does not work in the same way.
“And if that were the case, it would be a tragedy to allow that in the country. It is much more urgent and pressing than just, if you will, the coronavirus, the classic version that is already here, when one or two more cases do not change things dramatically. The new variant could be a huge game changer and we don’t want to see that and so now. “
He was also questioned about how 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 the government last night banned travel from nine southern African countries.
But Shapps’ comments came as research showed that the Pfizer vaccine protects 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In the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, blood samples were taken from 20 people who received the Pfizer vaccine.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 neutralizing levels of antibodies that acted against the new strains.
Shapps confirmed that newcomers would continue to have to isolate themselves for 10 days, as well as show proof of a negative Covid test, unless they are traveling from countries deemed safe by the government.
He said: ‘If you come here from anywhere, whether you are British or foreign, you will have to take a Covid test up to 72 hours before coming here. It doesn’t change the other things that you will have to do, in other words the quarantine, if you are coming from somewhere that is not in the travel corridor. “
Shapps also predicted that Wales and Northern Ireland would introduce tests for newcomers in the coming days. “I suspect it will be a requirement for the whole of the UK from sometime next week,” he said.
He cautioned that testing of newcomers would not detect everyone with the virus.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually detect most asymptomatic cases, what does fix it is isolation or quarantine. That is what is still the gold standard and yet I am afraid to be part of the solution here. “