Scientists in Singapore find coronavirus variant with milder infections

FILE PHOTO: Office workers wearing protective face masks run in Singapore’s central business district during coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), 17 August 2020. REUTERS / Edgar Su

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Researchers in Singapore have discovered a new variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus that causes milder infections, according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal this week.

The study showed that COVID-19 patients infected with a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 had better clinical outcomes, including a lower proportion that develops low oxygen in blood when intensive care is needed.

The study also showed the variant, which has a large displacement in a part of its genome, calls for a more robust immune response.

The study involved researchers from various institutions in Singapore, including the National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID), the Duke-NUS Medical School and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

“These studies provide the first convincing data showing that an observed genetic change (mutation) in SARS-CoV-2 has affected the severity of the disease in patients,” Gavin Smith told Duke-NUS.

The scientists said the findings had implications for vaccine development and treatments for COVID-19.

The variant, which probably came from Wuhan, China, was discovered in a cluster of infections that occurred from January to March 2020. In Singapore, the virus was transmitted from person to person across several clusters before it spread.

An expert told Reuters this week that mutations in viruses could be “a good thing”. Viruses tend to become less virulent because they mutate to infect more people, but not to kill them, because they depend on the host for food and shelter, according to Paul Tambyah at Singapore’s National University Hospital.

Report by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Edited by Mark Potter

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