Covid-19 was introduced to the UK mainly from southern Europe, rather than China, during the first wave of the pandemic, according to the most comprehensive genomic analysis of transmission ever performed for any disease.
The study, conducted by Oxford and Edinburgh universities, looked at more than 1,000 infections brought to the UK by travelers from other countries before the end of April. Only 0.4% came directly from China. The largest sources were Spain (33%), France (29%) and Italy (12%).
The researchers analyzed the viral genome – the complete genetic code of the virus – in 50,000 samples taken from people infected with Sars-Cov-2 in the UK and other countries. They tracked the transmission chains by following slightly different lines that appear as the virus moves over time. The results were published Friday in the journal Science.
Although the study presents historical data from the first wave of Covid-19 last winter and spring, it shows how “genetic epidemiology” could be used to track the second rise now in full flood, said Professor Oliver Pybus of Oxford University, a study leader.
“This study shows that it is possible to track individual transmission lines of the virus accurately in time and space,” he said. “Performing weekly tests means that genomic tracking can become a key component of public health surveillance.”
The researchers are part of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium (Cog-UK), whose data have led to the identification of the most infectious variant B.1.1.7. They say that a detailed comparison of the behavior of the new variant with that of previous descendants will help us understand why it is spreading so fast now.
“Reconstructing where and when Covid-19 was introduced in the UK, we can see that previous travel and quarantine interventions could have helped reduce the acceleration and intensity of the first wave of cases in the UK,” said Prof. Pybus.
Although Covid-19 has its origins in China, only the first cases to arrive in the UK in late January came from there. The study shows three subsequent and much larger waves of introduction from continental Europe.
The first came in February and early March from Italy, the European country hit hardest by the pandemic. Then there was a greater increase in infection in Spain, followed by several cases in France in late March and early April.
By the end of April, with very few international trips and the UK blocked, the introduction of Covid-19 almost stopped and cases fell in the country. A new wave of imported infection – which was not included in this study – arrived in late August and early September in Spain and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, some viral lines continued to spread at a lower intensity in the UK during the summer. Unlike the current spread of the most transmissible variant B.1.1.7, the researchers found no evidence that any viral genealogy present had a selective advantage over others.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow published a separate but smaller study on Friday showing how travelers introduced Covid-19 to Scotland. He came to the same conclusions as the UK-wide analysis.
“The speed with which the virus has spread to Scotland and the UK as a whole, after multiple introductions, mainly from other European countries, has been extremely fast,” said Professor Emma Thomson, lead author of Nature Microbiology.
“It is possible that an earlier blockade in countries with a high burden of cases, such as Italy and other measures, such as quarantine of passengers in high-risk areas, could have prevented the escalation of the outbreak and more community transmission groups in course, ”she said.
“Our work offers unparalleled views on what happens in an individual epidemic,” said Louis du Plessis of Oxford University. “The UK distributes large volumes of genetic data on the virus on a weekly basis and if you do not have this level of surveillance, you will not know the real situation of the evolution and transmission of the virus.”
New national blocking rules in England
The main restriction is a firm message at home
People are allowed to leave home to go to work only if they cannot reasonably do so from home, to buy essential food, medicine and other necessities, and to move around with the household or another person – once upon a time. day and local
The most clinically vulnerable will be asked to protect
All primary and secondary schools and colleges will be closed until a mid-February review in mid-February. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers will still be able to participate, while ensuring growth will remain available
University students will have to learn from home until at least mid-February
Hospitality and non-essential retail trade will be closed. Dining services will be available, but not for the sale of alcohol
Entertainment and animal attractions, such as zoos, will be closed. Playgrounds can remain open
Places of worship may also remain open, but may only participate with the household.
Indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools and horse riding arenas, will be closed. Elite sports, including the English Premier League, will be able to continue
Travel abroad will only be allowed for “essential” business
Full details are available on the government’s official website.