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Hundreds of coronavirus mutations registered worldwide, their effects unknown — expert

Research evidence on how those mutations affect the virus’s behavior is scarce

MOSCOW, December 1. /TASS/. More than a hundred of various novel coronavirus mutations have already been registered worldwide, but their effects have not been sufficiently studied yet, a prominent Russian virologist told the Rossiya-24 TV channel on Tuesday.

"The virus is changing. We know that it is accumulating mutations, and has already accumulated hundreds of different ones all over the world. Research evidence on how those mutations affect the virus’s behavior is scarce. One study was carried out in the United States, and it revealed that the virus is replicating ten times slower than the original strain. So, it might be a step toward reduced virulence <…>, in the process of adapting itself to a new host. But we cannot say for sure whether mortality will decline," said Director of the Martsinovsky Institute of Medical Parasitology, Tropical and Vector-Borne Diseases at the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University Alexander Lukashev.

The expert attributed the present-day decline in COVID-19 mortality to widespread testing.

"The mortality that we observe today does not reflect the performance of the virus, does not reflect its prevalence, it merely demonstrates how many mild cases were registered. When we compare mortality rates observed in Europe this spring and this fall, we can see that it decreased fivefold, even tenfold in some areas. However, this happened not because treatment has become ten times more effective, or the virus has become ten times weaker - this is because mild cases were simply not registered in spring. There were practically no tests during that period, and when testing eventually became widespread, leading to more and more mild cases being exposed, the overall share of lethal cases started to decline," Lukashev said.

Coronavirus pandemic

In late December 2019, Chinese officials informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of a previously unknown pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, in central China. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus - named COVID-19 by the WHO - have been reported in every corner of the globe, including Russia. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

According to the latest statistics, about 63.3 mln people have been infected worldwide and more than 1.4 mln deaths have been reported.

According to Russia’s anti-coronavirus crisis center, 2,322,056 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the country so far, with 1,803,467 patients having recovered from the disease. Russia’s latest data indicates 40,464 fatalities nationwide. Earlier, the Russian government set up an Internet hotline to keep the public updated on the coronavirus situation.