WHO and its network of scientists and virologists continue to follow the genetic sequence of the virus in various countries around the world to monitor the mutations, said the WHO. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit, said the scientists had seen the “normal changes” in the virus that were expected.
“All viruses are evolving,” said Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO emergency program, at a press conference at the headquarters of the United Nations agency in Geneva. “They can evolve in one direction. They can evolve in the other direction. “
“To date, to my knowledge, we have not seen any particular signal in the behavior or the sequence of the virus which leads us to believe that the virus is changing in its nature, has changed in its dynamics of transmission, or has changed in lethality, “he added.
RNA viruses like coronavirus mutate faster than some other viruses, said Ryan, because unlike human DNA, RNA viruses do not have “natural error checking,” which means that the code of the virus cannot correct itself. This gives RNA viruses advantages and disadvantages, he said.
“The downside is that they make many mistakes and many viruses do not thrive or survive,” he told reporters. “Very occasionally, a mutation can lead to a virus becoming more efficient in transmission or more virulent, or less efficient. “
He added, however, that generally speaking, viruses “evolve to live with humans”, which means that they become less severe so that the host can survive and allow the virus to spread more.
“It is not in the interest of the virus to do too much damage to the host,” he said. “He wants to survive. “
At the moment, however, the virus is “relatively stable,” said Van Kerkhove. She added that the changes seen in the virus were “expected” and that it did not “mutate in such a way as to make the virus more transmissible or more severe”.
This does not mean that the virus will not become more dangerous over time, said Van Kerkhove, adding that it would not necessarily be due to a mutation. She said that if people or governments become complacent about the response to the virus, it will become more dangerous.
“It is far from over,” she said. “These public health and social measures may have to be reintroduced and this can frustrate people, which is understandable. And that could in a way make the virus more dangerous because people become complacent. “