Coronavirus strain discovered in Europe 'accounts for 80 per cent of UK cases', study finds

Lizzie Roberts
·2 min read
British holidaymakers flocking to Spain in July may have brought back a new strain of coronavirus, a new study suggests  - Jasper Juinen/Getty
British holidaymakers flocking to Spain in July may have brought back a new strain of coronavirus, a new study suggests - Jasper Juinen/Getty
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

A coronavirus mutation that originated among Spanish farmers could be responsible for up to 80 per cent of Britain's infections after holidaymakers brought it home over the summer, a new study has suggested.

The variant, known as 20A.EU1, was discovered by a team of international researchers who tracked its spread across Europe through its genetic code.

In a similar way to other viruses, Covid-19 mutates twice monthly on average, but these variations – including 20A.EU – do not tend to change the function of the virus, scientists say.

So far, there are no indications that the new strain spreads faster or has more detrimental health impacts, the authors of the pre-print study said.

Coronavirus Spain Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus Spain Spotlight Chart - Cases default

By examining the genetic code of the virus from Covid-19 tests, a method known as DNA sequencing, scientists can follow these variations and track their prevalence within regions.

The mutation was first discovered among farm workers in northern Spain in June before it moved into the local community, travelled into the Valencia region and then went on to the rest of the country.

The suspected "super-spreader" event among the workers may have been "critical" in boosting the mutation's prevalence nationally before the borders reopened to holidaymakers, the researchers said.

In July, with the establishment of the Spanish travel corridor, British holidaymakers flocked to Spain and the first case of the 20A.EU1 was reported in the UK on July 18.

By tracking weekly data supplied by the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, the researchers said the strain now accounts for around 80 per cent of sequences in the UK. That is likely to be proportional to cases, Dr Emma Hodcroft, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Basel, said.

The mutation will continue to be investigated, Dr Hodcroft said, but added the prevalence of the variant highlights "some failures in the system", such as Test and Trace and travel quarantines.