MADRID (Forbes) – Spain is the latest country to confirm cases of a new coronavirus strain first detected in the U.K. that early studies suggest is far more contagious, sparking worries that it could worsen the pandemic.
Four people in Madrid who recently arrived from the U.K. were infected with the new coronavirus variation, the region’s deputy health chief Antonio Zapatero announced Saturday, but said “there is no need for alarm,” adding that none of the patients are seriously ill.
According to Reuters, a traveler from the U.K. in Sweden tested positive for the new strain, the country’s health agency announced Saturday.
AlJazeera reports that France and Lebanon also said Friday that travelers from London had tested positive for the new variant. The mutated virus has been found as far away as Japan, which announced Friday it had detected five cases of the new strain, all in people who had recently arrived from the U.K., leading the country to temporarily ban nonresident foreign travelers.
Ireland’s Department of Health said Friday researchers found evidence of the variant by whole genome sequencing, and said in a statement that it would conduct more testing to establish its prevalence in the country.
The new strain has also been detected in Italy, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia, according to the BBC.
While it has not been detected in the U.S. yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week it’s likely the variation has already made its way stateside. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease official in the U.S., said Tuesday that Americans should “assume it’s here already.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci says it’s “certainly possible” that the new, virulent COVID strain in the U.K. is already in the United States — “you really need to assume it’s here already.” https://t.co/W39hzNlWx1 pic.twitter.com/tiz3xfhzRm— Good Morning America (@GMA) December 22, 2020
This week, Los Angeles County researchers began testing virus samples to determine if the new strain is circulating on the West Coast, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Researchers this week announced the results of a study, still yet to be peer reviewed, which suggest the new strain is roughly 56% more contagious than previous forms of coronavirus.
The U.K., which has developed stronger capabilities to monitor genetic changes in the coronavirus than other countries, was the first country to detect the variation, but it’s possible it has been circulating in other countries for some time without being found. The new variant is believed to be the driving force behind a surge of cases and deaths in the U.K. Dozens of countries have banned travelers coming from Britain as a result.