The variant’s existence was made public on Monday when officials in Japan announced they had found a coronavirus variant in people arriving from Brazil different from ones believed to have originated in the UK and South Africa.
The variant was found in airport tests on a man in his 40s, a woman in her 30s and two teens. Japan is working with other nations and the World Health Organisation to analyse the new version of the virus.
“We are concerned about the new Brazilian variant,” Mr Johnson told MPs on Wednesday.
“We already have tough measures… to protect this country from new infections coming in from abroad.
“We are taking steps to do that in respect of the Brazilian variant.”
He said there remained many questions about the variant, including whether it would be resistant to the vaccines.
“There are lots of questions we still have about that variant, we don’t know for instance, any more than we know whether the South African variant is vaccine resistant.”
Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper subjected the Prime Minister to intense questioning over border measures saying the nation could have “stronger quarantine and stronger checks like very many other countries do”.
“We were warned about the Brazil variant three days ago, we don’t know yet whether that will potentially undermine the vaccination programme so why aren’t you taking immediate action on a precautionary basis?” she asked.
Mr Johnson replied: “Well we are and we’re putting in extra measures to ensure that people coming from Brazil are checked and indeed stopping people coming from Brazil.”
Ms Cooper asked: “Are you, that’s a new announcement?”
“No sorry I said what we were looking at was the question of whether or not the Brazilian variant is immune resistant,” he said.
Pressed on whether this means a new travel ban being imposed on Brazil, he said: “We are taking steps to ensure that we do not see the import of this new variant from Brazil.”
Ms Cooper repeatedly pressed on what those steps exactly are, to which Mr Johnson cited the incoming plans for negative tests before departure being needed.
The man from Brazil who tested positive had no symptoms upon arrival in Japan but was hospitalised after his breathing became difficult. The woman suffered headaches while one teenager, a male, had a fever. The other teenager, a female, had no symptoms, according to the Japanese Health Ministry.