The second wave of the coronavirus would have caused significantly fewer deaths in Hungary if the government had taken stricter measures, according to a study analyzed by the government-critical weekly Magyar Hang. According to the journal, they obtained a scientific manuscript in which Hungarian researchers analyzed several coronavirus genomes sequenced in Hungary. They found that the first and second waves of the pandemic were fundamentally different because of the different epidemic management, not because the virus was more infectious in the second wave. Magyar Hang concludes that the losses caused in the second wave could have been prevented.
This article was originally published on our sister-site, Ungarn Heute.
Several Hungarian researchers conducted studies during the pandemic to determine the exact genome of the virus strain that caused the infection, and were able to create so-called molecular phylogenies from the numerous gene sequences. Why is this important? It makes it possible to trace the evolution of the virus, its lineage, and to infer with great accuracy the spread of the epidemic, the origin of the infection, and its course.
The most important question for the researchers, according to Magyar Hang, was what made the second wave so devastating compared to the first. They found no evidence that the dominant strain in the second wave was more infectious than the other variants. They claim that,
The second wave, which killed more than 11,000 people, would have been less tragic if the government had taken stricter measures.”
The study was based on the facts that there were strict measures in place in Hungary during the first wave, a complete lockdown was introduced right after the virus appeared in the country, and that infection and mortality rates were far below Western European trends. In contrast, during the second wave, either no restrictions were imposed or they were imposed much later, which is why the number of cases and the mortality rate skyrocketed and the population-based mortality rate was also among the worst in the world.
The research attempted to answer how this drastic and tragic change could occur in the course of the pandemic.”
The genome sequences of more than 350 virus samples found in Hungary were analyzed. Genetic diversity among the viruses that caused the infections in the first wave was found to be relatively high, suggesting that the virus had been introduced multiple times from different sources before March 2020 (the official start of the Hungarian outbreak), and was spreading covertly until it was detected. However, there is also evidence that these did not spread in the community, demonstrating the effectiveness and benefits of stringent measures.
In contrast, the viruses isolated during the second wave showed much less genetic variation, with the variant B.1.160 prevalent in Europe. This variant may have entered the country sometime in the early summer of 2020 when everything seemed calm and peaceful from an epidemiological perspective. It could then have spread unnoticed in the population for two months before the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths skyrocketed.
The study concludes that:
…genomic and epidemiological analysis shows that the dominance of the B.1.160 variant is not due to an inherent infectivity advantage or repeated introduction, but rather to epidemiological conditions favorable to [the virus] during the period of latent transmission.”
These documents containing the research results have not yet been peer-reviewed by any “independent site,” but reportedly have been submitted to the journal, Virus Evolution. According to the site, the study was also previously submitted to the preprint server biorXiv, which collects manuscripts awaiting publication, but then withdrawn for some reason to prevent publication of the study before the elections. The authors of the article include researchers from ELTE, the Szeged Biological Research Center, the University of Pécs, and the University of Szeged.
Source: Magyar Hang
Featured image via Zoltán Balogh/MTI