A mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2 is suspected to be behind the second wave of coronavirus in Europe, according to research.
Researchers in the US and Japan have compared the mutant strain, which developed in Europe, with the first emerged in Wuhan, China. The mutant form rapidly outperformed the original Wuhan variant, becoming the dominant strain around the world by late spring. The scientists found that the mutated virus not only replicates about 10 times faster but it was also much more infectious.
The study was led by researchers in the Baric Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hills Gillings School of Global Public Health.
The early studies found that that the mutated virus in Europe became more efficient at getting into human cells, and got easily transmitted to others.
"The D614G virus outcompetes and outgrows the ancestral strain by about 10-fold and replicates extremely efficiently in primary nasal epithelial cells, which are a potentially important site for person-to-person transmission," the researchers said.
In the mutated version of SARS-CoV-2, the strain has been added at D's position. "Several papers had already described that this mutation makes the protein more functional and more efficient at getting into cells," the researchers added.
The lead researcher of the study, Dr Ralph Baric stressed the need to track and understand the consequences of new coronavirus mutations. He pointed out that the new mink-related disease in Denmark and said such mutations could result in "disease severity, host range and vulnerability to vaccine-induced immunity".
However, other researchers believed that current vaccine development should still be effective against the mutant.
Lockdown and restriction have begun to stem the spread of COVID-19 in several European countries. In Germany, which began a "lockdown light" on 2 November, saw infection curve was flattening. Ireland, which closed all bars, restaurants, and non-essential shops and banned non-essential travel has seen a decline in daily infection rates. Even in Spain, which has been among the hardest hit in Europe's second wave, the infection rate has fallen from 42 per cent last month to 36 per cent this week.