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How the more contagious COVID variants swept across Europe

Paris: Much of mainland Europe is now firmly in the grip of the more contagious variant of COVID-19 originally discovered in Kent, sending countries back into various forms of lockdown.

The data on variants and their spread, compiled by genomic researchers, shows more than 75 per cent of coronavirus cases sequenced on the continent in the first week of March were found to be the UK variant, up from around 14 per cent at the end of last year.

People walk on the streets of Warsaw, Poland, which has been hit by a sudden spike in new COVID-19 cases, as has much of central Europe and the Balkans.

People walk on the streets of Warsaw, Poland, which has been hit by a sudden spike in new COVID-19 cases, as has much of central Europe and the Balkans.Credit:AP

For Europe, the picture is relatively bleak and it will take a substantial improvement before the majority of countries can find a spot on the green list.

According to data published by the CoVariants project, which compiles international open-access genomic analysis, around 3 per cent of cases were identified as the South African and Brazilian variants – strains scientists fear could be more resistant to COVID-19 vaccines – compared with less than 1 per in the UK over the same period. Countries will now be trying to trace their contacts, to stop their spread growing.

French President Emmanuel Macron blamed the UK variant for a resurgence of infections when he announced a third national lockdown for the country last week. New rules will see schools move to remote learning and non-essential shops shut.

Daily cases have risen by 15 per cent in the last week in France, and the CoVariants data shows that around 60 per cent of sequenced infections at the beginning of March were detected as the UK variant.

In Germany an even higher proportion of cases analysed in the same period – 75 per cent – came back positive for the UK variant, as a similar spike in infections hits the country.

This week leaders of two states with the highest prevalence of COVID, as well as the German intensive care association, called on Chancellor Angela Merkel to impose a national lockdown, as confirmed cases climbed to more than 17,000-a-day.

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