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Mutated virus linked to new case upsurge

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-10-30 09:08

Tourists and locals gather at a lookout point, with a view of the city of Barcelona in the background, after regional authorities across Spain introduced fresh coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions aimed at stamping out a surge in infections, in Barcelona, Spain, July 23, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Summer holidays may be reason for spread of new COVID-19 variant

Research that tracks how the novel coronavirus mutates shows the rapid spread of a variant in Europe since the summer accounts for the majority of new cases in the United Kingdom and several other countries.

In a paper published on Thursday, scientists describe a variant that originated in Spanish farm workers, called 20A.EU1. They say it suggests that people returning from holiday in Spain played a role in transmitting the virus across Europe, according to a Financial Times report.

The scientists say they are now examining to see if the variant could be more infectious or deadly than other strains, though they have stressed that there was "no evidence that the variant's (rapid) spread is due to a mutation that increases transmission or impacts clinical outcome".

Experts have warned of alarming infection rates across much of the continent.

Germany and France have reinstated forms of national lockdowns, as Europe confronts a surge in cases and deaths.

President Emmanuel Macron of France said the country risked being "overwhelmed by a second wave that no doubt will be harder than the first".

An Imperial College London study revealed that almost 100,000 people a day in England are now being infected as the virus spread rapidly increases.

Countries that were not hit badly by the first wave, such as the Czech Republic and Poland, have not been spared this time.

According to the mutation research, the new variant accounted for more than eight out of 10 cases in the UK, 80 percent of cases in Spain, 60 percent in Ireland and up to 40 percent in Switzerland and France.

Emma Hodcroft, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Basel and lead author of the study, told the Financial Times that the new research suggests improved screening at airports could have reduced the second wave sweeping Europe.

"From the spread of 20A.EU1, it seems clear that the (virus prevention) measures in place were often not sufficient to stop onward transmission of introduced variants this summer," she said.

Demand for air travel has been hit badly due to the pandemic, and London's Heathrow airport said the lack of passenger testing for COVID-19 has been a major issue.

The London hub lost its status as the world's busiest airport this week after reporting a loss of 1.5 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) for the first nine months of the year.

It said passenger numbers between July and September were down by more than 84 percent compared with the same period in 2019. Paris Charles de Gaulle has now taken over as the busiest airport in Europe.

In a phone interview with Reuters news agency, Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye said, "Britain is falling behind because we've been too slow to embrace passenger testing".

In a separate statement, Heathrow said that, in comparison, testing regimes have been implemented at its three main "continental rivals", including Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt airports.

The Airports Council International Europe, or ACI, has warned that 193 airports are at risk of insolvency if passenger traffic does not recover soon.

These air hubs facilitate 277,000 jobs and account for 12.4 billion euros ($14.7 billion) of European GDP, the organization said in a statement on Tuesday.

Closures may lead to "the collapse of a significant part" of the European air transport system, according to the ACI.

It comes as the world's largest carmaker Volkswagen reported optimism that its business will stabilize despite the pandemic.

The automaker returned to profit in the third quarter with help from surging demand for luxury cars in China, where sales rose 3 percent. Overall, sales were down only 1.1 percent in the third quarter from the pre-virus period.

Carmakers from Daimler and Tesla to Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, all filed better-than-expected results in the past weeks, reported Bloomberg.

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