- Most of the new COVID-19 cases in Europe come from a mutated variant of the virus spread by tourists from Spain, scientists said in a report on Thursday.
- The variant of coronavirus originated in northeastern Spain in June and was taken overseas by scientists and other travelers, the scientists said.
There isn’t enough data to suggest that this variant, known as 20A.EU1, is more deadly, according to the team from the University of Basel, ETH Zurich in Basel, and SeqCOVID in Spain.
The variant known as 20A.EU1 has been identified in 12 countries on the continent, as well as Hong Kong and New Zealand.
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Most of the new COVID-19 cases in Europe come from a mutant strain of the virus that started in Spain and has been spread by tourists across the continent, scientists said in a report on Thursday.
The variant probably came from farm workers in northeastern Spain, where it was first recorded in June.
The team of scientists from the University of Basel, ETH Zurich in Basel and SeqCOVID in Spain said a suspected “superspreader” event explained the early spread of the virus, which was then spread abroad by tourists and other travelers.
By October, the variant had been identified in 12 countries on the continent as well as in Hong Kong and New Zealand.
There’s no data yet to suggest this variant is more deadly, they said.
The variant of SARS-CoV-2 known as 20A.EU1 had spread in at least six European countries by the end of July.
Hundreds of variants of the virus are present in Europe, but few are as widespread as the 20A.EU1 cluster, the scientists said.
“This variant, 20A.EU1, and a second variant, 20A.EU2 … make up the majority of the most recent sequences in Europe,” said the scientists.
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Vacationers returning from Spain played a significant role in spreading the virus across Europe, the researchers said.
More than four in five new cases of the virus in the UK are due to this variant, and scientists have linked this to around 250 individual transmissions of the virus to the country in July and August.
In comparison, the analysis of viral sequences in Hong Kong suggests that infections there came from only one source and the New Zealand samples could only have come from three separate transmissions from Europe.
The variant is mainly included in Europe due to intercontinental travel, the scientists said. Authorities have quarantined parts of the summer.
The rise in the prevalence of 20A.EU1 across Europe “implies that summer travel policies and restrictions are generally insufficient to prevent introductions from being passed on,” the researchers said.
The variant could be more contagious than the usual SARS-CoV-2 strain, the team added, but it is “particularly difficult” to finally determine why the variant is spreading so quickly.
The scientists don’t know if the variant is more severe due to a lack of data, they added. Genomic surveillance allows them to identify and track this cluster, but “the lack of consistent and unified sequencing across Europe has still limited our efforts.”
Governments should consider the data when planning a return to Europe, the researchers added.
The report comes after France and Germany announced stricter lockdown restrictions on Wednesday.
The countries will face a one-month lockdown, during which bars and restaurants will have to close again. In France, shops that are not absolutely necessary are not allowed to remain open, while in Germany hotels cannot accept tourists and gyms and theaters have to be closed.
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