Cyprus Mail

Coronavirus: Limassol spike could be due to new more contagious variant, Kostrikis says

Leondios Kostrikis, Professor of Molecular Biology at the Department of Biological Sciences of the University of Cyprus (CNA)

Limassol’s increased coronavirus cases could be due to a new more contagious variant of the virus, the former head of the health ministry’s advisory team Dr Leondios Kostrikis said on Saturday.

Following a health ministry report saying that 70 per cent of the country’s total coronavirus cases detected in the last 14 days were traced to Limassol, the head of the biotechnology and molecular virology lab at the University of Cyprus (UCY), explained on Astra radio that the outbreak might be due to a newer variant of Covid-19 which is more contagious.

The negative epidemiological situation in Limassol affects the country’s overall picture, as all other district’s cumulative diagnosis rate are under 100/100,000, much lower than 150/100,000, the safety limit set by ECDC, while Limassol is at 420.9 / 100,000.

So far, the UK variant (B.1.258) was traced in the island this year by the Institute of Neurology and Genetics (CING), alarming the health ministry who said the new variant has been linked to an increased viral load, quicker spread and higher transmission rate.

Last week, Kostrikis presented a study at the UCY, showing B.1.258 accounted for 90 per cent of infections since December last year. Another 37 different genealogical lineages of the virus were traced from 768 SARS-CoV-2 positive samples in Cyprus, according to the ten -month study.

To prevent these variants from developing in Cyprus, Kostrikis highlighted the need to speed up the vaccination process.

However further concern has arisen as the vaccines available approved by the ECDC were produced based on genetic information scientists had access to more than six months ago, Kostrikis said.

There are currently new variants which are more dangerous, the professor added, citing  the example of the South African variant which was found to resist vaccines, especially that of Astra-Zeneca.

“The virus changes to resist the human immune system,” Kostrikis explained, therefore, if the coronavirus mutation occurs in a person who has been vaccinated and has been infected again, then the variant will be able to resist the vaccine.

Kostrikis concluded that vaccines will be constantly updated according to the Covid-19 variants.

Cyprus will receive more than 120,000 Covid vaccines next month, mainly from AstraZeneca but also Pfizer and Moderna. Vaccine deliveries to the island are expected to increase over the three months following March, the health ministry said.

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