Coronavirus outbreak has brand-new “fingerprint”

29.07.2020 - 16:19
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Vilhjálmur Þór Guðmundsson - RÚV
“What’s interesting is how much [information] sequencing adds. We have four groups and individuals where the contact tracing team has found no links but sequencing of the virus has shown that they have the same variant,” says Kári Stefánsson, director of deCODE genetics. Different variants act like a virus’s fingerprint and are unique.

The one found in Iceland now does not match any in the international database, which indicates it originated from a country that is not performing a lot of sequencing research.

It is widely believed that anti-contagion measures will be tightened up in Iceland once again—possibly before the end of this week. The number of active COVID-19 cases in the country is growing again and now stands at 28. 

deCODE has decided to start testing for the coronavirus again, both by randomised invite and also targeting people who were at the Rey Cup football tournament, which saw an outbreak. 

Kári says the rapid increase in new cases this week is causing him to worry, and making him wake up earlier in the morning. It is also important though, he says, to enjoy the opportunity to deal with the problem. 

He says there is very little information available about the new variant of the virus, its so-called fingerprint, which is at the centre of the new outbreak in Iceland. “74,000 virus samples have been sequenced and the data put into an international database and there is nothing there like this one, which means that this infection comes from a country which is not sequencing much." It is likely the coronavirus variant comes from a country in Eastern Europe which has not been sequencing many samples.

Kári says that the variant is interesting but not surprising: the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 mutates in a very random fashion and creates new variants that are unique to specific geographical areas. 

Kári says what worries him is the fact that the people diagnosed with the new variant do not know how they are connected to one another. “So, there seems to be agents in between; a fifth infection that could be one person or a group.” He says it is also worrying that two of the individuals with the virus in Akranes were tested with very high viral loads, which means they were very infectious. 

The rules on entering Iceland were relaxed on 15th June, which Kári says was a reasonable decision. The current situation is one that was anticipated, he says: that restrictions would be eased for a while, then tightened again, and then eased once more. “This is likely to happen in several waves. It is not possible to expect anything other than that it will flare up and that we will need to look after people and protect the most vulnerable,” he says. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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