Health officials in the Republic of Cyprus say the new strain of coronavirus, found initially in the UK and confirmed on the island last week, has spread in the community but an accurate picture of the problem remained unclear due to only a very small sample size being tested.
Only two dozen samples were checked last week for the highly contagious COVID-19 variant known as SARS-CoV-2 VOC 202012/01, according to Cypriot health officials, with reports saying the Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics tested 24 cases that had been found positive.
According to the Cyprus News Agency, the CING in Nicosia found one case with the mutation after carrying out specialized testing on 24 samples from infected persons who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week of December.
Previous tests on samples from infected passengers, who tested positive after traveling from the United Kingdom to Cyprus last month and as late as December 20, showed that 12 out of 19 cases had the mutation.
There was no indication the latest tests involved travelers from the UK or contacts of infected travelers, with CNA reporting that all 24 infected persons had tested positive in the last week of December in different districts of the island.
A health ministry official said the infection rate of the new strain of coronavirus could not be ascertained due to the 'small sample size that got tested'
A health ministry official was quoted as saying that the infection rate of the new strain of coronavirus could not be ascertained due to the “small sample size that got tested.”
CNA also reported there was ongoing discussion among members of the government’s coronavirus task force about introducing a new procedure that would allow a larger sample and a less time-consuming process to identify the mutation.
But officials maintained there was no reason for panic over the new variant, with health experts saying the mutation was not any more dangerous for a patient but simply more highly contagious.
Higher viral load, more rapid transmission, and higher contagiousness up to 70% have all been associated with the new mutation, which was identified in the UK back in October and reported to the World Health Organization in mid-December.
While some theories have been put forward, scientists remain uncertain about exactly how clusters of mutations arose and how the human factor, including different or experimental treatment methods across regions, may have exacerbated the problem.
Last month countries moved quickly to ban travelers from Britain with varying degrees of restrictions.
The Cypriot government, in the early evening on December 21, introduced a self-isolation requirement in hotels for arriving passengers from the UK with some exceptions, such as minors being allowed to self-isolate at home.
Officials, who were criticized on both ends for being too tough and not being tough enough, said the administration had to choose between a total travel ban on the UK and self-quarantine for passengers arriving from that country.
A Cabinet decision on Thursday is expected to introduce new measures, but reports said a lockdown was not favoured by the government citing concerns over the economy.