European tourists are at the root of a unique mutation of the coronavirus that has spread on a large scale in South Africa. This is evident from a study reported today in the South African edition of Business Insider.
According to the scientists, there were several, possibly even hundreds, of “corona introductions” by foreign tourists, which may explain why the corona epidemic spread faster in the early South African lockdown in the more touristy province of Western Cape than in other provinces.
Scientists, from universities in Durban and Stellenbosch, studied the genetic fingerprints of the viruses found in 46 patients from Cape Town who became infected at the start of the epidemic. Within that sample, they identified at least nine different introductions of the virus, most of them from Europe. However, the researchers believe that the real number is probably higher. “Hundreds of tourists may have brought the virus into South Africa,” it sounds.
The scientists based themselves on ‘breadcrumbs’ that the virus leaves behind in the form of genetic mutations as it spreads. These mutations are usually harmless, but they do leave traces in the genetic code. A worldwide database already contains more than 60,000 different sequences. This allows scientists to determine which trace the virus followed.
This analysis now shows that the virus was imported several times from the Netherlands, which may have to do with the close cultural and historical ties between the two countries. Other introductions have come from Australia and the United Kingdom. This happened in February and March, the peak of the tourist season in Cape Town.
One of the Dutch introductions received a unique mutation and then caused a cluster outbreak in a supermarket in Cape Town. A similar modification was found during a major epidemic in a hospital in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Meanwhile, South African TV presenter Leanne Manas announces on Twitter that South Africa has surpassed the United Kingdom in terms of the number of corona infections, ranking eighth in the list of the highest infection rates in the world.