Scientists claim covid-19 mutation originated in Catalonia and Aragon spread to Europe

Researchers point out that the variant represents the majority of infections in several countries

A variant of covid-19 that originated in Catalonia and Aragon this summer has spread to Europe, according to a scientific study published this Thursday, pending review. The mutation, called 20a.eu1, initially spread among the seasonal workers in these areas, then onto the native population before it reached Valencia, and from there to the rest of Spain.

"This variant was exported from Spain to other European countries," the study notes. The group of researchers states that the mutation now represents the majority of infections in several European countries such as Switzerland, Ireland and the United Kingdom, but it has also been detected in others such as Norway, Latvia, Holland and France. The research suggests that the expansion of the mutation in Europe is linked to returning from holidays in Spain.

"It seems clear that the measures were not enough to stop the transmission of the variant this summer," concludes the head researcher, Emma Hodcroft, in statements to the Financial Times. Now this group of scientists, four Swiss and two based in Valencia, will study whether the 20a.eu1 mutation is more contagious and deadly than the original covid-19.

In any case, Dr Hodcroft says there is "no evidence that the [rapid] spread of the variant is caused by a mutation that increases transmission or affects clinical outcomes". However, she stressed that 20A.EU1 does not resemble any version of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes covid-19, which she had previously encountered. "I have not seen any variant with this type of dynamics during all the time I have been examining the genome sequences of the coronavirus in Europe," she said.

A reasonable hypothesis

In particular, the teams are working with virology laboratories to determine whether 20A.EU1 carries a particular mutation in the spike protein that the virus uses to enter human cells, which could alter its behaviour.

Consulted by ARA this Thursday, after reading the study, molecular genetics researcher at the University of Leicester Salvador Macip believes that "the variant that was first detected in Spain in June" has gradually "been seen to increase in Europe (at least in the few countries that have genetic data, which are not all) ".  In the scientist and writer's opinion, "this suggests that it has been spreading from Spain, and one cause could be the holidays". The promoters of the study, however, say that "with the data they have, one cannot be sure that this is [the cause] or simply that this is a more contagious variant and, once out, it has spread more effectively"

For Macip, "the genetic variations we have seen so far have not made the virus more infectious. Therefore, and lacking more data, the theory of a spread due to the summer holidays in Spain carries a lot of weight".

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