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Global Times

Pandemic caused by more virulent variant unlikely but coronavirus mutation always a possibility: experts

Global Times0

By GT staff reporters Published: Dec 30, 2022 05:43 PM

It's always possible to see new coronavirus variants emerge, but it will be less likely to see a pandemic caused by a more virulent variant, Chinese experts said, stressing the need to strengthen monitoring of mutated virus strains amid public concerns over possible variation during the present surge.

The BA.5.2 and BF.7 are the absolute prevalent Omicron sub-strains present in China, which together account for more than 80 percent of cases. Seven other subtypes have also been detected, Xu Wenbo, director of the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the media recently. However, Xu said that no characteristic genomic mutations were found in these subvariants.

Lan Ke, director of the State Key Laboratory of Virology at Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Thursday that the COVID-19, as a kind of RNA virus, has random mutations in its genes as it reproduces in the host.

With the wide spread and replication of Omicron variants in the population, the mutations of the virus will increase and the possibility of new variants will always exist. Therefore, it is still necessary to strengthen the monitoring of mutant strains, Lan said.

China's National Health Commission (NHC) announced on late Monday night that the management of COVID-19 will be downgraded from Class A to Class B from January 8. China will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and keep tracking the epidemic development, including changes in the virus' transmissibility, virulence and ability to escape the immune system. Appropriate measures will also be imposed to curb gatherings and people's mobility so that the peak number won't overwhelm the medical system, said the NHC.

Liang Wannian, head of the expert panel overseeing the national COVID-19 response, told media on Thursday that China pays close attention to the monitoring of pathogen variation and takes an active part in global pathogen monitoring.

China will notify the WHO in a timely manner when a new variant is discovered or when the mutation causes a change in virulence or transmissibility of the virus, Liang said.

Chen Yu, deputy director of the Department of Virology of the School of Life Sciences in Wuhan University, told the Global Times on Thursday that virus evolution is the result of interaction between viruses and their living environment. After natural selection, the variant strains that are more conducive to survival can get the chance to spread and reproduce, while the virus variant strains can't adapt will be gradually eliminated.

In the transmission and mutation of COVID-19, antibodies produced in the recovered body, combined with the use of vaccines and drugs, will inevitably provide pressure for the evolution of the virus, which makes the virus evolve in two directions: one is inclined to be more transmissible, the other is that viruses evolve to escape their host's immunity, Chen said.

Even if a more virulent strain emerges, it is unlikely that it will become a dominant strain, making it less likely to become a prevalent strain, Chen said, noting that it's unlikely to see a pandemic caused by a more virulent variant.

The COVID-19 is more likely to evolve into another relatively mild "seasonal" respiratory infection with symptoms similar to the common cold, Chen said.

With the renewal of vaccines and the increase of vaccination coverage, as well as the research and development of antiviral drugs, a stronger protecting umbrella for human health and security is expected, Lan said.

It is entirely possible for individuals to have some recurring infections. But the initiative of COVID-19 prevention and control is still in the hands of humans... Lan said, "Regular vaccination may become normal depending on the mutation of COVID-19."

It would be more ideal to start with basic research and develop broad-spectrum vaccines and drugs that will help humans completely rid themselves of the influence of viral evolution, Lan said.

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