The hunt for the missing Brazilian variant patient says a lot about the government’s Covid response

Editorial: Most poignantly, hotel quarantine was brought in too late to stop this incident from potentially damaging the UK’s ability to control the virus

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The frantic search for a missing unnamed carrier of a coronavirus “variant of concern” tells us three things about the government’s response to the pandemic.

First, and most poignantly, the government dithered for too long before it imposed the hotel quarantine regime. The potential spreader came to the UK a matter of days before the border controls were tightened up. Hotel quarantine was brought in on 15 February, but the person was clearly in the country before that date, because they applied for a Covid test in the UK just before then, and the result was positive.

The UK’s superlative ability to chart the genome sequence of virus samples means that this case has been identified as one of the Brazilian variants, P1. That means it is more transmissible than the original virus, and it may be more resistant to antibodies. That, in turn, suggests that the vaccines may be less effective against it, and that those who’ve already survived Covid-19 could be reinfected. As a result, the lockdown roadmap could conceivably be disrupted by a rapid spread of a more troublesome mutation.

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