Denmark logs 256 cases of more contagious coronavirus variant

People use laboratory equipment as researchers at Aalborg University screen and analyse all the positive Danish coronavirus disease (COVID-19) samples for the new English virus variant "cluster B.1.1.7", in Aalborg, Denmark January 15, 2021. Ritzau Scanpix/Henning Bagger via REUTERS

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark on Saturday found its first case of a more contagious coronavirus variant from South Africa, and saw a rise in the number of infections with the highly transmissible B117 variant first identified in Britain, health authorities said.

The Nordic country extended a lockdown for three weeks on Wednesday in a bid to curtail the spread of the new variant from Britain, which authorities expect to be the dominant one by mid-February.

Denmark has become a front-runner in monitoring coronavirus mutations by running most positive tests through genome sequencing analysis.

Between mid-November and Jan. 10, 256 Danes were infected with the new variant from Britain, the State Serum Institute (SSI) said in a report published on Saturday.

That corresponded to 1.3% of all positive tests genetically analysed during that period.

In the first week of January, the percentage share of positive tests with the mutation was 3.6%, a growth rate which worried authorities and prompted the lockdown extension.

Preliminary data showed 11 of those infected with the variant had travelled prior to infection, including five in Britain, but SSI said it was unclear whether they had been infected abroad or in Denmark.

Later on Saturday, SSI announced that the first case of infection with another more contagious variant first found in South Africa had also been registered, in someone who had travelled to Dubai.

Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by John Stonestreet and Helen Popper