A new potent variant of coronavirus first identified in the UK and believed to be behind a surge of cases in the country has been found in Cyprus.
The ministry said on Monday the country’s Institute of Neurology and Genetics identified the variant VOC 202012/01 in one of 24 samples collected from individuals who had contracted COVID-19 locally in the last week of December.
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 up to 70% more transmissible than the original variant of the virus first identified in China a year ago.
The ministry said due to the small number of samples, it’s unclear how widespread the variant is within the community and more checks are required to determine the extent to which the new strain has spread across the island.
The new strain has higher a viral load and is more easily transmitted.
On Sunday, the new variant had been identified in 12 of 19 samples from COVID-19 infected people who had arrived in Cyprus from the UK between December 6-20.
U.K. health officials are struggling to control the spread of the new variant that is more contagious than previous variants with Prime Minister Boris Johnson instructing people to stay home as a national lockdown came into force on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, 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 decree issued on December 21 is extended to January 10.
All arrivals from the UK 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.
Cyprus has been struggling to bring cases down since late October when cases exploded into the hundreds.
On Monday, 665 new COVID-19 infections were reported from nearly 13,500 tests, raising the overall tally to 24,639 cases.
Deaths as a result of the coronavirus have reached 133, with 19 deaths occurring just in the week after Christmas.
Health Ministry spokesperson Margarita Kyriacou said: “Just as we see happening in the United Kingdom, where the new strain was first identified, the high numbers in daily cases, despite the strict measures applied, are partly attributed to the existence of the new strain in the community”.
South Africa has also 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, is different from the one in Britain.
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.