Officials confirmed that the South African variant of the coronavirus was detected Thursday in Spain as the Health Ministry reported a drop in new infections.
Galician health officials said they detected the variant in a male who had recently traveled to South Africa for work.
The variant has been found in at least 30 other countries.
Scientists suggest it may be more transmissible than previous strains. There is also worry that it may be more difficult to treat with antibody therapies and able to more easily re-infect those who have already recovered from the virus.
Perhaps more worrisome for now is the highly contagious UK variant. Spanish health authorities have confirmed nearly 300 cases of that mutation and predict it will become the dominant strain sometime in March.
Another 34,899 virus cases were confirmed Thursday, down more than 40,000 infections that were reported Wednesday.
Spain’s 14-day infection rate dropped slightly for the first time this year. It now sits at 889 cases per 100,000 people but still extremely high.
Hospitalizations also remained relatively stable, although the occupancy rate at intensive care units by COVID-19 patients increased slightly to 43%.
New deaths surged by 515, bringing the death toll to 57,806.
In neighboring Portugal, which has one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said the UK strain is the cause of 32% of all Portuguese infections, and 50% in the hard-hit area of Lisbon.
Meanwhile, economic data from Spain’s National Statistics Institute revealed that the pandemic destroyed 622,000 jobs and brought the unemployment rate to 16.1% in 2020.
That puts an end to six straight years of improving employment data in Spain, though the widely employed furlough mechanism has saved hundreds of thousands more from losing jobs during the past year.
The last year Spain saw a sharper increase in unemployment was 2012.
Source: Anadolu Agency