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Papua New Guinea’s first prime minister, Michael Somare, was in critical condition in a hospital over the weekend with pancreatic cancer, his family said.

The family revealed in a statement on Sunday that the 84-year-old was undergoing palliative care in the national capital, Port Moresby. His daughter Betha Somare did not respond to a request for an update on his condition on Tuesday.

Somare was pivotal in the South Pacific nation’s move to independence from Australia and was the country’s first prime minister from 1975 to 1980.

He was prime minister for a total of 16 years over three separate stints before retiring from politics in 2017.

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New Brazilian mutant Covid strain that may be more contagious found in UK for first time as test blitz launched

A NEW mutant Brazilian strain of Covid that may be more contagious has been found in the UK for the first time with six people infected.

Public Health England confirmed today the Manaus P1 variant has been discovered in three people in England and three in Scotland.

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4Six strains of the Brazil variant have been found in the UKCredit: Alamy Live News 4

It is more contagious and there is a chance it may not respond as well to the jab - although no vaccine data for it exists.

The 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.

Three of the people with the new strain were detected on Friday in England, while three were found in Scotland yesterday.

Two of the patients are from the same household in South Gloucestershire with surge testing being launched in the area from 9am tomorrow.

4One of the cases returned from BrazilCredit: Doug Seeburg - The Sun

PHE said one of the people had travelled back from Brazil and passed on the disease to a family member but have been isolating.

Their cases were followed up by the PHE Health Protection Team with their contacts identified and re-tested.

PHE has confirmed there is no wide risk to the community and have asked residents to visit the council's website for more information.

But a third case has not registered 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.

What is the P1 Brazilian variant?

The Brazilian variant (P1) has three key mutations in the spike receptor binding domain (RBD) that largely mirror some of the mutations experts are worried about in the South African variant.

The coronavirus RBD is one of the main targets for our immune defences and also the region targeted by vaccines. Changes within this region are therefore worrisome.

Experts detected the new variant circulating in December in Manaus, north Brazil.

It is not yet known if the mutation causes more severe Covid-19, but evidence suggests it may be more transmissible.

Porton Down scientists are conducting more analysis to confirm evidence that indicates the strain does not cause any higher mortality rate or that it affects the vaccines or treatments.

It was detected in Brazil and in travellers from Brazil to Japan, and contains a unique constellation of lineage defining mutations.

Like the South African variant, the Brazilian one carries a mutation in the spike protein called E484K, which is not present in the UK strain.

The E484K mutation has been shown to reduce antibody recognition, helping the virus to bypass immune protection provided by prior infection or vaccination.

Scientists analysing the Brazilian variant say the mutations it shares with the South African variant seem to be associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where previous attack rates are thought to be very high.

They say it is therefore essential to rapidly investigate whether there is an increased rate of re-infection in previously exposed individuals.

PHE 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.

They are hoping to get everyone on the flight and members of their household tested.

Anyone on the flight has been asked to call 0117 450 3174 to arrange a test.

Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE strategic response director for COVID-19 and NHS Test and Trace Medical Advisor said: “We have identified these cases thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are finding more variants and mutations than many other countries and are therefore able to take action quickly.

“The important thing to remember is that COVID-19, no matter what variant it is, spreads in the same way.

4

"That means the measures to stop it spreading do not change. Stay at home and if you do need to go out for essential reasons, cover your nose and mouth, wash your hands thoroughly and keep your distance.

"We ask that individuals come forward for testing through the symptomatic and asymptomatic test sites across the countries in order to continue to drive down cases in the community."

There are several new variants of Covid which have spread in the UK since the end of 2020.

Boris Johnson forced England into its third national lockdown in January after a more infectious strain of Covid emerged.

The three of most concern emerged in Kent (B1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.2).

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The latest addition, named B.1.525, has similarities to the Kent strain, but with several additional mutations, according to the University of Edinburgh.

Surge testing has been put in place in certain areas in the UK to monitor the spread of the new variants.

But there is evidence stricter measures - including contact tracing and tough border measures - had slowed the spread of the new strains.

Virologist explains the evolution of the Covid virus and the thousand of variants since the start of the pandemic

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