Cyprus has discovered 12 cases of a highly infectious new coronavirus variant in people who recently travelled from Britain, the Health Ministry said.
The new variant of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, VOC 202012/01), now spreading around the world, was first found in the UK and is more transmissible than the original variant of the virus first identified in China a year ago.
Another recent new variant was first found in South Africa.
Of 19 positive tests for COVID-19 recorded on individuals who arrived in Cyprus from Britain between December 6-20, authorities found that 12 were for the new variant.
Cyprus has reported a sharp surge in COVID-19 cases in the past three weeks, with daily cases peaking at 907 on December 29.
Since the outbreak first surfaced in Cyprus in early March 2019 and until January 3, 23,974 people had been infected, and 131 died.
The Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics screened samples from individuals who had arrived from the United Kingdom and diagnosed with the virus.
The new strain has higher a viral load and is more easily transmitted.
Cyprus has renewed an obligatory seven-day quarantine for all passengers arriving from the U.K., to prevent the spread of a virulent new strain of coronavirus found there.
The health ministry said the order issued on December 21 is extended to January 10.
All arrivals from Great Britain are tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at Larnaca and Paphos airports, after which they are transferred to local hotels.
On the last day, they are tested again and if the result is negative for SARS-CoV-2 and the new strain they are allowed to leave but remain in home isolation for a further three days.
Exempted from the rule are those aged up to 18, who may remain in the quarantine hotel with their parents or guardians.
South Africa strain
South Africa has announced that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus is driving the country’s current resurgence of the disease, which is seeing higher numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
The new variant, known as 501.V2, is dominant among new confirmed infections in South Africa.
South Africa may see “many more cases” in the new wave than it experienced in the first surge of the disease.
South Africa currently has more than 8,500 people hospitalized with COVID-19, surpassing the previous high of 8,300 recorded in August.
The new strain, different from the one in Britain, appears to be more infectious than the original virus.
South African scientists are studying if the vaccines against COVID-19 will also offer protection against the new strain.
Some of the vaccines, including the one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, are undergoing clinical tests in South Africa.
It is facing increasing isolation as more countries ban travel over the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus.