Scientists tracking coronavirus track outbreak back to English football match

The fast-mutating Covid-19 coronavirus could have 40 different strains and one of the epicentres of the deadly disease was an English football match, says a report published today by scientists in Iceland.

The report, based on swabs taken from nearly 10,000 volunteers, shows that the European outbreak spreads from three major centres. One in Italy, the country hardest hit by the pandemic, one in Austria, and one – the experts believe – spread from a football match in England attended by seven carriers.

The genetic detective work used the way viruses evolve to trace Covid-19’s path through Europe.

48 of the volunteers tested were found to be carrying the virus, adding to Iceland’s 648 coronavirus cases.

The virus is thought to have existed in animal populations for years, or even decade, before a key mutation enabled it to make the jump to humans. Further mutations have created at least 40 subtly different strains.

The Icelandic health authorities, with help from private consultancy DeCode Genetics, tested 9,768 people for coronavirus. One of the people tested was actually found to be infected with two strains of coronavirus.

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Explaining his team’s results to Icelandic news website Information, Kári Stefánsson, director of DeCode Genetics said: “We can see how viruses mutate, we have found 40 island-specific virus mutations.

“We found someone who had a mixture of viruses. They had viruses from before and after the mutation, and the only infections traceable to that person are the mutated virus.”

Explaining how Covid-19 gained a foothold in Iceland, Dr Stefánsson said: “Some came from Austria. There is another type from people who were infected in Italy.

“And there is a third type of virus found in people infected in England. Seven people had attended a football match in England.”

While the team’s results have yet to be peer-reviewed by other scientists, Dr Derek Gatherer, an infectious disease specialist at Lancaster University, told the Daily Mail he was not surprised with the findings.

“This is much as we would expect,” he said. “All viruses accumulate mutations, but few of them are of much medical consequence.

“They are valuable in tracing the origins of infection chains. It looks like Iceland has imported quite a few infections from other European countries.”

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He went on to say that he expected coronavirus to become more infectious, but less deadly as time went on: “The 2009 H1N1 swine flu was at its strongest in the initial summer 2009 pandemic and then came back quite strongly the following 2009/2010 winter.

“It wasn't until winter 2010/2011 that it had settled down a bit and was behaving more like a typical seasonal flu.

“Covid-19 might be back in subsequent winters, but it will probably be a little while before it is as mild as its relatives.”

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