More than 1,000 coronavirus cases were brought into the UK from abroad in early pandemic

A new study has revealed over 1,000 cases of Covid-19 were introduced into the UK from abroad in the early stages of the pandemic (Image: ANDY RAIN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

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More than 1,000 individual cases of Covid-19 were introduced to the UK from abroad during the first wave of the pandemic scientists have found.

The highest number of transmission chains during the first half of 2020 were from Europe.

33% came from Spain, 29% from France and 12% from Italy.

China, the source of the virus, only accounted for 0.4% of the introduction of transmission chains.

The study was published in the journal Science, where researchers said earlier travel and quarantine interventions could have helped reduce the intensity of the UK’s first wave.

33% of the cases came from Spain, and 29% from France with only 0.4% directly from China
(Image: Getty Images)

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Professor Oliver Pybus, from the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology, is co-lead author on the study.

He said: "This study shows that it's possible to trace individual virus transmission lineages accurately through time and space.

"Undertaking analyses on a weekly basis means that genomic tracking can become a key component of public health surveillance."

He added: "By reconstructing where and when Covid-19 was introduced to the UK we can see that earlier travel and quarantine interventions could have helped to reduce the acceleration and intensity of the UK's first wave of cases."

The study analysed more than 50,000 genomes of Sars-Cov-2, the virus which causes Covid-19.

The study comes as people coming into the UK will finally require a negative test before flying, only 11 months into the pandemic
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

The researchers said that their work offers "a never-before-seen level of insight into the origins and behaviour of transmission chains since the start of the pandemic".

The combination of high volume of travellers and few restrictions on international arrivals prior to the first lockdown “led to the establishment and co-circulation of more than 1,000 identifiable UK transmission lineages.”

The team said this "contributed to accelerated epidemic growth that quickly exceeded national contact tracing capacity".

Experts said the findings of this study offered important context to what is currently happening in the UK’s second wave as the new Covid-19 variant spreads across the country.

The study, from Oxford University, has traced 1,000 cases of Covid-19 which entered the country from abroad in the early pandemic
(Image: PA)

A detailed comparison of the new variant’s behavior with the spread of the Covid-19 lineages in the first wave could help understand how it’s able to spread so fast.

Co-lead author Louis du Plessis, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford's Department of Zoology, said: "Our work offers unparalleled views into what's happening in an individual epidemic.

"The UK shares large volumes of virus genetic data publicly on a weekly basis and if you don't have this level of surveillance you won't know the real situation of virus evolution and transmission.”

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