In Brief

Spanish coronavirus mutation blamed for Europe’s second wave

Holidaymakers spread the new Covid-19 variant across the continent

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Europe’s second wave of coronavirus was accelerated by a new viral mutation that emerged from a cluster of farms in northern Spain, according to research published today by a Swiss university.

The new variant, first detected in June, “has spread rapidly through much of Europe”, the Financial Times reports, “and now accounts for the majority of new Covid-19 cases in several countries - and more than 80% in the UK”.

The study’s lead author, University of Basel evolutionary geneticist Emma Hodcroft, said a “super-spreading event among agricultural workers” transmitted the 20A.EU1 mutation of the virus into the local population, where it was picked up by visitors from across the continent.

“What we think happened is that rising cases in Spain combined with that increase in holiday travel allowed the virus to move to many different countries across Europe and, when it got there, it was able to spread quite successfully,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The theory “raises questions about whether the spiralling second wave - which is forcing European nations to retreat back into national shutdowns - could have been averted by improved screening at airports and borders”, says the Daily Mail.

Viruses naturally mutate as they spread through the population, often without noticeably changing their effect on humans. Occasionally, however, a new variant will emerge which is either more or less dangerous.

Scientists “are now rushing to examine the behaviour of the variant to establish whether it may be more deadly or more infectious than other strains”, the Financial Times reports - although so far they have found no evidence that it presents a greater threat.

And while flu mutates so quickly that immunity to one strain may offer no protection against another, coronavirus appears to be more stable. 

“We really don’t think that mutations have any impact on any immunity someone might have from being infected, or on a vaccine,” Hodcroft said.

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