The mutation of coronavirus may be “less lethal” as evidence suggests the proliferation of the D614G mutation in some parts of the world has coincided with a drop in death rates, said Dr Paul Tambyah, the chairman of Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

Dr Tambyah, who is also the senior consultant at the National University of Singapore and president-elect of the US-based International Society of Infectious Diseases (ISID), told Reuters on Tuesday (18 Aug) that the increasingly common mutation of COVID-19 found in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia “may be more infectious but appears less deadly”.

Noting that most viruses tend to become less virulent as they mutate, he explained, “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.”

“Maybe that’s a good thing to have a virus that is more infectious but less deadly,” Dr Tambyah added.

Meanwhile, Dr Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, the deputy executive director of research at Bioinformatics Institute, Singapore’s Agency for science, technology and research (A*STAR), said that the variant has also been found in the city-state but containment measures have prevented a large-scale spread.

However, Dr Tambyah and Dr Maurer-Stroh pointed out that such mutation “would not likely change the virus” enough to make potential vaccines less effective.

“(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,” Dr Maurer-Stroh remarked.

Mutation of coronavirus detected at Southeast Asia

On Sunday (16 Aug), it was reported that Malaysia has detected the D614G mutation after isolating and testing four cases from two existing clusters.

Malaysian health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah claimed that the mutation is “10 times easier” to infect other individuals, adding that it is also easier to spread, especially by a “super spreader”.

With the detection of D614G, Dr Hisham urged the Malaysian community to be more careful now while assuring that the situation is “under control” as the Malaysian health ministry and other agencies are continuing efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

Similarly, the new mutation strain of coronavirus was reportedly detected in a small sample of positive cases in Quezon City, Philippines, according to CNN Philippines.

It was said that both the D614 as well as the G614 showed up in the samples collected by Philippine Genome Center’s researchers when they started a new set of research in June.

“Although this information confirms the presence of G614 in the Philippines, we note that all the samples tested were from Quezon City and may not represent the mutational landscape for the whole country,” the Center stated.

During the World Health Organization (WHO)’s briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in July, Maria Van Kerkhove, the COVID-19 technical lead of WHO, hinted that the mutated strain had been identified as early as February and had been circulating in Europe and the Americas.

“So far, there is no evidence it leads to more severe disease,” she said at the briefing.

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