UK Covid-19 variant could be helping Spain by keeping other strains out

Chief epidemiologist suggests dominant strain leaves no room for others to take hold

Nurse Guillermo Monzon explains to a relative of Carmen Garcia the side effects after administering Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, in Telde, on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain March 31, 2021. Picture taken March 31, 2021. REUTERS/Borja Suarez
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The coronavirus variant first detected in the UK could be helping Spain by fending off other strains and keeping them at bay.

Fernando Simon, Spain’s chief epidemiologist, said the B117 variant was now the country’s dominant strain, responsible for 70 per cent of new Covid-19 cases in 11 regions and 90 per cent of infections in another five regions.

Dr Simon said the more contagious variant could be benefiting Spain by preventing other strains detected in South Africa and Brazil becoming prevalent.

“The Brazilian and the South African strains are the ones that interest us and worry us most,” he said.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday threw her weight behind a “short, uniform lockdown” as the country grapples with a high level of cases fuelled by the spread of the UK variant.

Ms Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Germany's hospital system was under increasing pressure.

Ms Merkel and the leaders of Germany's 16 states in March agreed national rules including strict shutdowns and possible curfews in areas with more than 100 new infections per 100,000 people over seven days.

But under Germany's federal system, each state can ultimately decide its own rules. Some have failed to impose more restrictions in the face of more cases and even gone ahead with reopening measures.

Ms Demmer said the patchwork of rules was "not contributing to security and acceptance at the moment".

While the vaccines can cope well with the UK strain, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was only 10 per cent effective in protecting against mild to moderate Covid-19 disease in South Africa.

Countries such as the UK stepped up border measures to prevent variant cases being imported.

Limited numbers of the South African and Brazilian strains were detected in the UK, where the B117 variant is dominant.

Dr Simon said Spain might soon offer AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to people over 65.

“We have more solid evidence that in people over 65, the AstraZeneca vaccine will have the effect that we would like it to have,” he said.

Spain is something of an outlier in Europe by limiting AstraZeneca's vaccine to young people, while countries such as Germany and France are using the drug only in the older population over concerns about blood clots.

Marco Cavaleri, the head of vaccines at the European Medicines Agency, said there was a "clear link" between AstraZeneca's drug and rare but serious blood clots, with the regulator to make an official statement on the matter later on Wednesday.

The UK regulator is also expected to make an announcement on the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in younger people this week.