- Most new cases of COVID-19 in Europe come from a mutated variant of the coronavirus spread from Spain by tourists, scientists said in a report Thursday.
- The coronavirus variant was first identified in northeastern Spain in June and was brought abroad by tourists and other travelers, the researchers said.
- There is not enough evidence to suggest that this variant, known as 20A.EU1, is more deadly, said the team from the University of Basel, ETH Zürich in Basel and SeqCOVID in Spain.
- The variant has been identified in 12 countries on the continent, as well as in Hong Kong and New Zealand.
- Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.
Most of the new cases of COVID-1
The option most likely originated with agricultural workers in northeastern Spain, where it was first registered in June, they said.
A team of scientists from the University of Basel, ETH Zürich in Basel and SeqCOVID in Spain said the alleged “over-spreader” event reported the early spread of the virus, which was then spread abroad by tourists and other travelers.
By October, the option had been identified in 12 countries on the continent, as well as in Hong Kong and New Zealand, they said.
There is still no evidence to suggest that this option is more deadly, they said.
The SARS-CoV-2 variant, known as 20A.EU1, had spread to 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, scientists say.
“This variant, 20A.EU1, and the second variant 20A.EU2 … represent most of the latest sequences in Europe,” the scientists said.
Read more: Airline executives say it doesn’t matter how well they protect passengers from COVID-19 – the search for travel will not bounce back until the pandemic is over
Vacationers returning from Spain have played an important role in spreading the virus across Europe, the researchers said.
More than four out of every five new cases of the virus in the UK stem from this variation, and researchers attribute this to about 250 separate transmission of the virus in the country in July and August.
By comparison, the analysis of viral sequences in Hong Kong suggests that the infections came from only one source, and the samples from New Zealand could be from three separate transmissions from Europe.
The option is contained mainly in Europe due to the lack of intercontinental travel during the pandemic, scientists say. Authorities have allowed quarantine travel within the continent during parts of the summer.
The growing prevalence of 20A.EU1 across Europe “suggests that summer directions and travel restrictions were usually not enough to prevent further transmission of introductions,” the researchers said.
The variant could be more contagious than the usual SARS-CoV-2 strain, the team added, but they said it was “especially difficult” to definitively determine why the variant was spreading so quickly.
Scientists do not know if the option is more severe due to lack of data, they added. Genomic surveillance allows them to detect and track this cluster, they said, but “the lack of consistent and uniform consistency across Europe still limits our efforts.”
Governments must take data into account when planning to travel back across Europe, the researchers added.
The report comes after France and Germany announced tougher restrictions on blocking on Wednesday.
The parties will face a one-month blockade, during which bars and restaurants will have to close again. In France, non-essential stores are not allowed to remain open, while in Germany hotels cannot accept tourists and gyms and theaters must be closed.