SCHOOL will still reopen on Monday despite a "concerning" new Brazilian mutant strain, the vaccines minister confirmed today.
Surge testing is being carried out from this morning in South Gloucestershire after the Manaus P1 strain was detected in the UK for the first time.
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The mutant virus is thought to be more contagious and there is a chance it may not respond as well to the jab - although no vaccine data for it exists.
Three of the people with the new strain were detected on Friday in England - including two in South Gloucestershire - while three were found in Scotland on Saturday.
A hunt is now underway for the sixth patient in England, whose whereabouts are currently unknown.
But vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi today calmed fears the reopening of schools on March 8 would be delayed due to the new variant.
The move is the first step on Boris Johnson's roadmap for lifting lockdown.
Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: "It's really a precautionary measure because the particular family in question actually followed the rules very, very closely. But it's an important precautionary measure.
"Schools have had 50 million lateral flow tests delivered, they have already done about three million tests, even before we set out the road map to reopening by March 8.
"Teachers will be tested twice a week, even in secondary schools and colleges will be tested twice a week.
"There's a big infrastructure of testing going into schools."
The new strain has been described as "of concern" compared to the P2 variant from Brazil that has already been found in the UK.
This is because it shares important mutations with the variant first identified in South Africa.
Health officials have identified five of the cases, but an urgent alert has been issued to find the sixth as their identity and whereabouts is unknown.
They did not register their Covid test online, meaning they have not been identified.
Anyone who took a test on February 12 or 13 but didn't receive their result or has an uncompleted test registration card is urged to call 119 in England or 0300 303 2713 in Scotland for assistance as soon as possible.
Two patients found to have the variant are from the same household in South Gloucestershire, with surge testing being launched in the area from 9am today.
PHE said one of the people had travelled back from Brazil and passed on the disease to a family member but they have been isolating.
Their cases were followed up by the PHE Health Protection Team with their contacts identified and re-tested.
Two additional people in the same Gloucestershire household have tested positive for Covid, but gene sequencing has not yet confirmed if they have the P.1 variant.
PHE has confirmed there is no wide risk to the community and have asked residents to visit the council's website for more information.
They are also urging anyone who flew on Swiss Air flight LX318 travelling from Sao Paulo to London Heathrow via Zurich on February 10 to come forward.
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They are hoping to get everyone on the flight and members of their households tested.
Anyone on the flight has been asked to call 0117 450 3174 to arrange a test.
Sara Blackmore, director of Public Health at South Gloucestershire Council, said: "Behave as if you are carrying the virus, stay in and only leave home if you must."