A variant of coronavirus could delay the lifting of the UK’s national lockdown and even force the country to go "backwards" as society moves on from the pandemic.
Professor Graham Medley, who sits on the SAGE group that advises the Government, warned the mutual Brazilian strain may be able to "break through" previously acquired immunity.
He said the world will be faced with variants "in the next six months" and added that there will "always be a risk" but monitoring will be a "crucial step" in deciding how the virus moves through the community.
Prof Medley, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC the country could "go backwards" but said "nobody" wants to do that.
Mr Medley said: "It is a variant of concern, but we are going to be faced with these in the next six months as we move towards relaxing measures.
"There are going to be challenges on the way and there is always a risk that we might have to go backwards, and that's what nobody wants to do is to actually open up and then have to close down again.
"So monitoring these variants, keeping an eye on in terms of what they actually do – so sequencing, for example, viruses in hospitals – I think is a crucial step to know whether or not this variant and other variants in the future, what impact they're actually having."
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Despite the looming threat, Boris Johnson vowed that the lifting of lockdown would still be "irreversible" despite the threat of the Brazil variant.
The Prime Minister said there was no reason to believe that the vaccine wouldn't work as well on the new variant – which has now been found in the UK.
He reassured the public during a visit to a school in Stoke, and dismissed any changes to the roadmap, which he described as a "very tough regime."
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Mr Johnson also said a "massive effort" is under way to find the source of the variant and prevent new coronavirus strains spreading in the wider community.
He said: "What we are doing is embarking now on a journey, a one-way road map to freedom and it is designedly cautious in order to be irreversible.
"We don’t think there’s any reason on this basis to change that now.
"Some people say we should go faster, some people say we should be more hesitant.
"I think we are going at the right pace."
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