Officials are searching for passengers who were on a flight to the UK from Brazil following the detection of cases of the worrying Manaus variant.
At the Downing Street press conference on Monday, Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins said it had not been in contact with everyone on the Swiss Air flight LX318 from Sao Paulo to Heathrow, via Zurich, which landed on February 10.
The flight is significant as one person linked to two cases of the Brazilian variant in a South Gloucestershire household was on the plane. The flight landed days before the government’s hotel quarantine rule came into force. In total, six cases of the concerning P1 variant – first detected in the Brazilian city of Manaus – have been found in the UK.
Dr Hopkins said “more than 90 per cent of the flight have already been contacted”, and urged the remaining passengers to get in touch.
HuffPost UK has asked Public Health England how many people were still be contacted and whether it had the full contact details for all the LX318 passengers, but the agency declined to answer the questions.
Separately to the Sao Paulo-London flight, the hunt continues for the one person who tested positive but has yet to be identified. They are believed to have taken a test on February 12 or 13.
Ministers have come under fire for the border arrangements following the detection of the cases. UK residents returning from coronavirus hotspots abroad have been quarantining in hotels since February 15. But critics have repeatedly argued it was too little, too late to protect against more infectious mutations.
Dr Hopkins said: “We are contacting individuals on the Swiss Air flight LX318 travelling from Zurich into London on February 10 to provide public health advice and test them and their households.
“More than 90 per cent of the flight have already been contacted through the details they left on the passenger locator form. If you were a passenger on that flight, and have not been contacted, please call 0117 4503174, to arrange a test for you and your household contacts.”
At the same Downing Street briefing, health sectary Matt Hancock said home quarantine measures were already in place and travel restrictions on Brazil had been imposed before the hotel policy was implemented.
Hancock said: “All the evidence is that the five cases that we know about followed those quarantine rules and that, I hope, is very reassuring to people.
“There is no evidence that the sixth case did not follow those quarantine rules – we need to obviously get in contact with the person in question.”
Of the six cases of the P1 variant detected by Public Health England, three are in England and three in Scotland.
Three cases are Scottish residents who flew to Aberdeen from Brazil via Paris and London, who all tested positive while self-isolating.
Other passengers who were on the same flight to Aberdeen are now being traced.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the discovery of the Brazilian coronavirus variant in the UK shows the government has not “secured our borders in the way we should have done”.
Speaking at a virtual meeting with Welsh businesses to mark St David’s Day, Starmer said: “It demonstrates the slowness of the government to close off even the major routes, but also the unwillingness to confront the fact that the virus doesn’t travel by direct flights.
“We know from last summer that a lot of virus came in from countries where it didn’t originate in, but people were coming indirect, and that’s the way people travel.”