Corona virus spread: Via Germany and Singapore to Italy

Corona virus spread: Via Germany and Singapore to Italy

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SARS-CoV-2 reached Italy via Germany and Singapore

The global spread of the new coronavirus SRAS-CoV-2 can be reconstructed on the basis of the genetic information collected and a current data analysis shows how three different types of the virus SARS-CoV-2 moved from China around the world. The viruses probably reached Italy via Germany and Singapore.

An international research team has analyzed the worldwide spread of the new corona virus based on the so-called "phylogenetic network analysis", which is used in archeology to reconstruct human tribal history, and thereby gained important new insights into the distribution pathways and the circulating virus types. For example, the virus did not reach China directly from Italy, but via Germany and Singapore. It also becomes clear that other virus types are common in Europe and America than in China.

The research group around Dr. Michael Forster from the Institute for Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB) of the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH) and the Christian Albrechts University of Kiel (CAU) as well as Dr. Peter Forster from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge used the GISAID database ("Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data") for her research, in which scientists have been genetically testing the results since the discovery of the new SARS-CoV-2 virus Have entered sequencing of the virus.

GISAID database with genomes of the virus

"At the beginning of March 2020, the GISAID database ( contained a compilation of 253 complete and partial genomes of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)," reports the University Hospital Schleswig- Holstein. Among them were 244 of SARS-CoV-2, which were isolated in humans, nine more from Chinese pangolin (pangolin), which is considered a possible intermediate host, and a genome that came from the bat species Rhinolophus affinis.

Precursors of the virus were already circulating in the animal world

It has become clear that ancestors of the new SARS-CoV-2 virus had already developed in animal hosts before a human became infected for the first time, reports the research team. The comparison of the virus genomes had also shown that, according to current knowledge, a bat coronavirus is the most similar to the human SARS-CoV-2. The researchers also carried out a phylogenetic network analysis, i.e. an investigation of the genetic relationships, in the first 160 complete virus genomes from human samples, with surprising results.

Three key variants of the virus

The research team identified three key variants of SARS-CoV-2, which they call A, B, and C. Type A is the most similar to the closely related bat coronavirus and is therefore probably the ancestor of all human corona viruses. "This has been confirmed by further comparisons with two distantly related pangolin coronavirus strains," the researchers report. Interestingly, the type B prevalent in Wuhan is not the original human virus type. Type A, the original human viral genome, does occur in Wuhan, but type B is dominant.

Different virus types in Europe than in East Asia

While the B type of the virus is the most common in East Asia, the A and C types were primarily found in those affected in Europe, Australia and America in the first phase of the coronavirus outbreak, the researchers report. The C-Type was documented early in Singapore, among other places, and was often represented among the first European cases of infection.

Infection routes exactly traced

Using the phylogenetic network analysis, the infection routes for documented COVID-19 cases could be precisely traced, thus eliminating some ambiguities. For example, in the case of infections in northern Italy, it was initially assumed that "Patient One" was infected by a certain Wuhan contact person from his circle of friends. However, this contact person was tested negative and the search for the Italian "patient zero" ended in a dead end - an effective quarantine of potentially infected people was impossible.

From Germany and Singapore to Italy

The new data analysis now provides information that at least two independent early infection routes were present in Italy. The researchers report that one of these can be linked to the first known case in Germany and the other to the outbreak in the so-called “Singapore branch”.

Genomic sequencing and phylogenetic network analysis

In the future, phylogenetic tracing could help identify COVID-19 sources of infection of unknown origin, and use this to contain the virus, the research team concludes. At the same time, the results underline "the need for genomic sequencing and the use of the method of phylogenetic network analysis", emphasizes Dr. Michael Forster. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein: Tracking down the genetic origins of the coronavirus (published April 9th, 2020),
  • Peter Forster, Lucy Forster, Colin Renfrew, Michael Forster: Phylogenetic network analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes; in: PNAS (published April 8th, 2020),

Video: Italy in virus quarantine, WHO warns on pandemic (May 2022).


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