The Generalitat of Catalonia has detected a case of the South African variant of the coronavirus without for the moment having found a relationship between the patient and that country, according to the Secretary of Public Health of the Catalan Government, Josep Maria Argimon. The case has been detected in a randomly analyzed sample among all the positives diagnosed in Catalonia.
The Generalitat is now investigating whether it is only the tip of the iceberg and the variant discovered in South Africa, considered more contagious, is already circulating in a community way through the Catalan capital. “It is a case that we have just detected in Barcelona and on which we are starting epidemiological investigations”, has confirmed the head of the microbiology service of the Vall d’Hebrón hospital, Tomàs Pumarola.
This is the second case diagnosed in Spain of the so-called South African variant. The first was almost a month ago in Vigo , although on that occasion it was possible to establish an epidemiological link, as it was a 30-year-old naval sector employee who had traveled to South Africa.
The irruption of the new variants of the coronavirus has become one of the major concerns of the European authorities after the explosion of cases caused in the United Kingdom by the discovery in that country took hospitals to an extreme situation.
The analyzes known to date in Spain reveal that the weight of the British variant was minimal (below 1%) at the end of 2020, according to several hospital sources. Since then, however, it has experienced a rapid spread and already accounts for more than one in four new cases in Cantabria or areas of Madrid. For now, there is no evidence that the new variants cause more serious clinical pictures than the dominant ones so far in Spain.
Pumarola has highlighted, in this sense, that if the discovery in the United Kingdom has proven to be more transmissible than the current one – the Ministry of Health expects that in a month or month and a half it will be the dominant one in Spain -, the South African even more: “It is being introduced with great force where the British one already was, which indicates that it has a greater efficiency to adapt”, he has affirmed.
In addition to those discovered in South Africa and the United Kingdom, there is a third variant considered dangerous, which is the one that is spreading in Brazil, of which no cases have been detected in Spain so far. This is what led the Government of Spain to decide on Tuesday to restrict flights from South Africa and Brazil.
Of the new variants, it is worrisome that, being more transmissible, they increase the pressure on hospitals by causing a general increase in the total number of infections. But there is also the fear that they could cause more serious clinical pictures (which has not been proven so far) or reduce the protection offered by vaccines, something that has not happened so far.
That they have not been detected before does not mean that these new variants have not begun to circulate in Spain. The way to find out is to do genetic sequencing of virus samples from positive cases, a process that so far is slow – it can take up to two weeks – and is done in a very small number of cases, less than 1%. In countries like the United Kingdom this percentage is close to 10%.
Health and the communities agreed last week to increase the number of samples analyzed with a new strategy that plans to reach 1% of sequenced samples first, go up to 2% when this objective is reached and try to reach the minimum 5% established by the Commission European.
Sequencing random samples, as has been the case in Barcelona, is the best way to detect the presence of the new variants as long as the capacity of the health system to perform this type of analysis is not increased.