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A new variant of coronavirus has reportedly been identified among at least 35 hospital patients in Bavaria, Germany.
Local news outlets first reported on Monday that an unknown variant of COVID-19 had been discovered at the clinic in the ski town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in south-east Germany.
The new strain was found in 35 of 73 newly-infected people at the hospital, the clinic’s deputy medical director, Clemens Stockklausner confirmed in a press conference later in the day.
Stockklausner also reportedly confirmed that the new variant is neither the British nor South African identified strains.
According to media outlets, he said that samples are now being examined at the Charite hospital in Berlin.
He added that there is no need to panic, saying: "We have to wait for the complete sequencing. We cannot say at all at the moment whether this (mutation) has any clinical relevance.”
Stockklausner said it is not yet known whether the variant is more contagious or more aggressive than other strains of the virus.
It is also unclear whether Germany has alerted the World Health Organization about the potential new strain but Yahoo has contacted WHO for comment.
The German Health Ministry said in a statement: “The Federal Government takes each of the mutations of the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus reported to date very seriously. The Federal Government is strengthening the possibilities of detecting corresponding mutations. One possibility for this is the molecular surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 viral genomes that have occurred in Germany.”
It comes as several new variants have emerged across the world in recent weeks, prompting new lockdown restrictions in European countries. The UK, South Africa, the US and Brazil have all detected new COVID strains.
The British-identified variant is 70% more transmissible than the original strain and has fuelled a devastating second wave in the UK.
In Germany this week, senior politicians have been calling for tighter measures to slow the spread of these new, more infectious variants, including more health checks for cross-border commuters and intensified gene sequencing of virus samples.
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On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and state premiers agreed to extend a lockdown for most shops and schools until February 14 as part of a package of steps to try to rein in the coronavirus, sources told Reuters.
They also agreed to mandate medical masks for passengers on public transport, the sources familiar with the ongoing discussions said. The existing lockdown runs until Jan. 31.
New infections have been decreasing in recent days and pressure on intensive care units has eased slightly, but virologists are worried about the possible spread of more infectious variants of the virus.
“The infection numbers have been going down for several weeks, or stagnating, and that’s good,” Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller told German television. “Now we are facing a very aggressive mutation that we have to respond to.”
He said one focus would be boosting working from home.
“There is much more room for maneuver,” said Mueller, adding states aimed to get employees to have to justify why employees had to travel to work.
Leaders would also discuss curfews, already in place in some states, but it was unlikely they would be imposed everywhere, he said.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen by 11,369 to 2.05 million, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday. The death toll was up 989 at 47,622.
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