Coronavirus was widespread in UK at very start of pandemic, says genetics expert – Sky News

One of the world's leading human genetics experts has told Sky News that coronavirus was widespread in the UK at the very start of the pandemic and a lack of vigilance allowed the virus to take hold.

Dr Kari Stefansson is overseeing a massive project in Iceland to genetically sequence every positive case of COVID-19 in the country to find out how it mutates and spreads.

He spoke to Sky News at the headquarters of his company deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, which houses a massive database of more than half the Icelandic population's genetic material.

Founded almost a quarter of a century ago, the samples are used to look into the genetic components of diseases. Now he's looking into COVID-19.

He says sequencing tells them where the cases come from.

"So the virus now has basically a barcode for every part of the world," he said.

"There is a collection of mutation that is relatively characteristic for Austria, another for Italy as well as Great Britain and for the west coast of the United States etc."

Prof Stefansson said that in the beginning, almost all of the cases came into Iceland from the Alps, from people who had been skiing in Austria and Italy.

The authorities responded by trying to contain the spread of infection from those high risk countries.

He added: "But as they were doing this, the virus was actually sneaking into the country with people from all kinds of other countries.

"And the most notable there is Great Britain. So it looks like the virus had a fairly wide spread in Great Britain very, very early in this epidemic."

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

Prof Stefansson said the UK - and the USA - weren't vigilant enough from the start, pointing to Iceland's policy of mass testing.

Iceland has now tested a higher percentage of the population than any other nation. 45,000 tests have been carried out in a population of 360,000.

deCODE is working alongside the health service to take samples from as many people as possible - the sick as well as the seemingly healthy.

Dr Stefansson says that is the only way to discover the true spread of the disease in the community.

The policy has allowed Iceland to identify cases quickly and isolate carriers.

After it was suggested that it is easier for a small nation to test and bring the virus under control, he replied: "Yes, there may be fewer of us but countries like the United Kingdom and the United States have much, much more resources than we do.

"It is all just a question of using what you have. They weren't vigilant enough. They didn't react to this early enough.

"You know, the countries that taught us the methods that we are using, in doing this in a place like Iceland, they didn't use it themselves. And that is tragic."

As well as testing for COVID-19, deCODE is also taking blood from volunteers to test for antibodies to fight the virus.

And the company is examining whether there is a genetic component to coronavirus.

Dr Stefansson says it is curious how different people respond to the virus.

"There are those who describe this as a mild cold," he said.

"There are those who end up in the intensive care unit on a respirator. And there is everything in between.

"We know that women have less tendency to get infected than men. And if they get infected, they don't get as sick as men. What is it that generates this clinical diversity?"

That is the big question that needs answering, he says, and deCODE has already begun sharing its findings in the hope of finding an answer.

Follow this link:

Coronavirus was widespread in UK at very start of pandemic, says genetics expert - Sky News

Related Post

Comments are closed.