Beware of mutant Covid, says expert

Beware of mutant Covid, says expert

Thiravat Hemachudha, director of the Health Science Centre of Emerging Diseases at Chulalongkorn University.
Thiravat Hemachudha, director of the Health Science Centre of Emerging Diseases at Chulalongkorn University.

Thailand should begin preparing for possible "genetic code alterations" of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, warned Thiravat Hemachudha, director of the Health Science Centre of Emerging Diseases at Chulalongkorn University, on Thursday.

He cited findings from recent studies in Vietnam and China on coronavirus strains in horseshoe bats, which inhabit Southeast Asian countries including Thailand.

The same species of horseshoe bats found living in China and Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia also inhabits Thailand and the evolution of the coronavirus was detected consistently in previous studies, he said.

"So we have to prepare to deal also with other possible new strains of the coronavirus that include the 2019 novel coronavirus [that causes Covid-19], which is likely to undergo multiple genetic code alterations," he said.

Such radical changes in the genetic code of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 may result in current techniques used in screening for the virus no longer working, he said.

Findings from studies conducted into coronavirus strains in horseshoe bats in Vietnam and China have revealed that it was the wild animal-eating habits of humans that made them vulnerable to being infected with the coronavirus in bats that has evolved to also infect humans now, he said.

These findings also undermine a suggested theory that the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19 may have escaped from a biological weapons testing laboratory, he said. Some have blamed China for the lab leak.

In related news, the cabinet has yet to approve a proposal for the government to spend 600 million baht to fund cooperation on Covid-19 vaccine development between Thailand and Oxford University and a vaccine research company in the UK, said Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul. The budget will be spent in part in developing a vaccine factory in Thailand, he said.


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