The more infectious UK variant of coronavirus has been detected in Norway for the first time, with people who had travelled from the UK testing positive, the country’s public health agency confirmed on Sunday afternoon.
One of the two cases was detected in the town of Kinn in Western Norway and the other in the Norwegian capital, Oslo.
“We can confirm that a person has been confirmed infected by the new variant,” Kjartan Sverdrup, a press spokesman for Oslo’s health service, told state broadcaster NRK. “The person in question and their close contacts are being followed up in line with current infection control rules.”
“This afternoon I received a phone call from a doctor from the National Institute of Public Health informing me that one of the samples taken in Kinn municipality had tested positive for the mutated variant from England,” said Jan Helge Dale, the head doctor in Kinn.
According to British experts, the new variant is up to 70 percent more contagious than more common variants of the virus. But it does not appear to be any more deadly, and there is so far no evidence that it is less responsive to vaccines.
In its press release, the National Institute of Public Health said that it remained uncertain whether the new variant would increase the spread of infection in Norway and elsewhere.
“It is currently only in parts of England that it is considered that the variant may have contributed to rapid growth in the epidemic. Investigations are still underway to be able to say something more certain about this,” the release read. “In Denmark, the virus has been present for several weeks without changing the infection situation.”
The Kinn case tested positive for coronavirus in mid-December after coming to Norway on a family visit. Local health officials will now carry out intensified tracing of the person’s contacts.
Cases of the new variant were detected in Denmark several weeks ago. Sweden reported its first case on Saturday.
Line Vold, a department director at NIPH, said that differences in countries’ genetic monitoring capabilities meant that it was possible that the new variant was more widespread than assumed.
“A few cases of this variant have been detected in a dozen European countries, but there is reason to believe that the variant can also be found in countries where the genome of the virus is not examined, and therefore no mutations can be detected,” she said. “When more countries start with such surveys, we will gain a better insight into the prevalence of this variant.”