Germany reports unknown coronavirus variant, plans stricter measures
A social distancing sign at Munich Central Station in Munich, Germany, January 5, 2021. /CFP

A social distancing sign at Munich Central Station in Munich, Germany, January 5, 2021. /CFP

The southern German town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen announced Monday that a new coronavirus variant has been found in samples collected from confirmed COVID-19 patients.

The mutated variant is different from any variant known to date. It was discovered in an outbreak of cluster infections in a local clinic, where 73 patients and staff were reported to have been infected. The new variant was found in samples from 35 of them.

Clemens Stockklausner, deputy medical director at the clinic, said Monday three samples of the mutant strain have been sent to the Charite Hospital in Berlin for analysis, stressing that it is not known yet whether the variant is more contagious or will lead to an increased rate of severe illness.

"We have to wait for the complete sequencing ... We cannot say at all at the moment whether this (mutation) has any clinical relevance," said Stockklausner.

The Ministry of Health said the same day that it will strengthen the country's virus sequencing and analysis work, to better monitor mutations.

In future, health labs will have to sequence 5 percent of the samples they collect when screening for the coronavirus to check if they match more virulent variants first identified in Britain and South Africa, or if new mutations were emerging in Germany.

New coronavirus infections have been decreasing in recent days in the country and the occupancy of intensive care beds by COVID-19 patients has declined by 10-15 percent, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn, who said intensified testing of cross-border commuters should be introduced to help prevent new variants entering Germany.

Germany now has a total of over 2 million confirmed cases and a death toll of 46,633, according to the WHO tally on Monday.

(With input from Reuters)

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