Mutation making coronavirus more infectious ‘may be a good thing’, says disease expert

An increasingly common mutation of the coronavirus seen across the world – but mainly in former epicenters of the pandemic – that is more infectious but less deadly may prove to be our saving grace, a leading disease expert says.

The rise in the prevalence of the D614G mutation in Europe, North America and parts of Asia coincides with a drop in Covid-19 death rates, and “maybe that’s a good thing,” argues Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases.

Tambyah highlights that it is the natural evolution for viruses to become less virulent as they mutate, in a bid for longer-term survival – if they kill their hosts too quickly, viruses tend not to last too long in the wild. 

“It is in the virus’ interest to infect more people but not to kill them, because a virus depends on the host for food and for shelter,” Tambyah explained.

This particular mutation was discovered as early in the pandemic as February, but scientists could not say at that point which of several mutations would prove to be the most ‘successful’ virus in terms of survival.

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Thankfully, these mutations are unlikely to impact the efficacy of future vaccines, so we may enter a new “new normal” sooner than expected, with vaccines still highly important but the overall lethality of the coronavirus pandemic waning.

“(The) variants are almost identical and did not change areas that our immune system typically recognise, so there shouldn’t be any difference for vaccines being developed,” says Sebastian Maurer-Stroh of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

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