A highly contagious variant of COVID-19 first identified in Britain is now predominant in Cyprus, its health ministry said on Friday, linking it to a recent surge in infections.
The ministry said all 111 positive samples taken in March and sent to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control were found to be the variant known as B.1.1.7, which was first discovered in Britain late last year.
The results explain a recent spike in infections since the strain is about 50 percent more contagious than the more common COVID-19 strain, the health ministry said.
An earlier comparison with January and February samples, released in March, showed the British variant accounted for about a quarter of all cases.
After a relative lull, the number of coronavirus cases in Cyprus started climbing in late February and despite restrictions on movement still in force, infections remain stubbornly high.
As of Thursday, Cyprus had reported a total of 49,988 COVID-19 infections and 268 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The numbers cover the south of the island controlled by the international recognized government and do not include cases in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north.
Cyprus first reported cases of the British variant in early January after tests on positive samples taken in December 2020.
Cyprus has had a widespread testing plan in place for months, offering free and compulsory rapid tests once a week for most of the population.