A waiter sweeps the street of a tapas bar area near Elvira Street on October 24, 2020 in Granada, Spain.
Carlos Gil Andreu | Getty Images News | Getty Images
LONDON – A variant of the coronavirus believed to have originated in Spain has spread across Europe and is responsible for most of the new cases reported in several countries in the region, according to a new study.
The study, which is due to be published on Thursday and was not peer-reviewed, describes how an international team of scientists closely monitored the coronavirus through its genetic mutations.
Each variant of the coronavirus has its own genetic signature, which means it can be traced back to the location where it first appeared.
It is said that a new variant of the disease, identified as 20A.EU1 by researchers from Switzerland and Spain, was first observed in Spain in June. The new variant has been registered in Spain since July with frequencies of over 40%, according to the study.
In other countries, the new variant of the coronavirus rose from "very low" levels before July 15 to 40% to 70% in Switzerland, Ireland and the UK in September. It was also found to be common in Norway, Latvia, the Netherlands, and France.
Researchers on the study said they had no direct evidence that the new variant of the virus is spreading faster than other mutations in several countries, despite increases in frequency.
There were also no data to assess the severity of the disease and although 20A.EU1 dominated in some countries, it had not been adopted everywhere and different variants of the coronavirus "continue to circulate across Europe".
The authors of the study included researchers from the University of Basel, the Biomedical Institute of Valencia and the University of Valencia.
What are the effects?
The results of the study suggest that people returning from holidays in Spain may have played a role in spreading the new variant of the virus across Europe.
It also raises questions about whether a recent surge in the number of newly reported Covid-19 infections in the region could have been limited by stricter travel measures and improved screening at airports and other transport hubs.
"It is currently unclear whether this variant is spreading due to a transmission advantage of the virus or whether a high incidence in Spain, followed by spread by tourists, is sufficient to explain the rapid increase in several countries," the study said.
A wave of new coronavirus cases in Europe has caused some countries to take new lockdown measures this winter.
Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Wednesday a "slight lock" with bars, restaurants, fitness studios, cinemas and theaters to be closed from next week.
In a similar move, French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed a second nationwide lockdown from Friday, when only schools and factories were supposed to remain open – in contrast to March, when these were also closed.
Almost 10 million cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in Europe, with 273,678 deaths, according to the WHO.