Gibraltar has received over 300 genome sequencing results from COVID-19 patient samples. The samples were taken between 23rd December 2020 and 2nd February 2021 in order to determine the variants of COVID-19 prevalent in Gibraltar’s population at that time. This is a GHA project led by Consultant Paediatrician and lead clinician at the COVID-19 Laboratory at the University of Gibraltar, Dr Daniel Cassaglia, and GHA Consultant Clinical Microbiologist Dr Nick Cortes.
The data shows that there was roughly a 50:50 split between the Spanish B.1.177 strain and the UK Kent Variant of Concern B.1.1.7 present in Gibraltar in that time period.
Importantly, no South African B.1.351 or Brazilian P.1 variants of concern were detected. The confirmation of the emergence of these more transmissible strains among Gibraltar’s population is not surprising, especially given how quickly this strain (the ‘Kent variant’) became the dominant strain in the UK and the close link and frequent travel between Gibraltar and the UK.
The data shows that these factors added to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Gibraltar in December and January. The presence of the UK variant also highlights Gibraltar’s vulnerability as a small, close community to the introduction and spread of new variants of the virus. It is also not yet known how future strains might affect us, for example in terms of increased transmissibility or escaping the protective effects of the vaccine. This means that as restrictions are eased and we return to our normal lives, we must continue to remain vigilant and continue to follow the established best practices to protect ourselves: social distancing, frequent handwashing and reporting any symptoms to 111 as soon as they start.
Minister for Health and Civil Contingencies, the Hon Samantha Sacramento, said: ‘This research shows the level of depth and detail at which we are monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and the prevalence of different strains. Gibraltar is extremely privileged that despite our small size, we have such accomplished professionals doing this vital work.’