France discovers rapidly evolving mutant strains of COVID-19

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More contagious, but less severe, mutant strains of COVID-19 have emerged in France, perhaps explaining why Europe is reporting a spike in confirmed cases.The head of a leading French research hospital revealed the discovery to French lawmakers last week, the Sunday Times in London reported.

Microbiologist Didier Raoult, who heads the IHU Méditerranée Infection in Marseille, told senators that infectious disease experts at the hospital found seven coronavirus mutations during an analysis of COVID-19 tests during the summer.

A strain, Raoult theorized, was introduced by people from North Africa after France lifted its lockdown in June. The mutation is now gone, although more have emerged, the outlet reported.

“They are less serious, so something is happening with this virus, which makes it different,” Raoult testified. “The mutations we have are a rather degraded version of the original form. At least, that’s our impression.

Several scientists dispute Raoult’s claim because of his approval of hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19 after President Trump touted the antimalarial drug. He has been heavily criticized for insisting that his little trial of hydroxychloroquine has proven to work.

Still, Raoult’s team sorted the strains from mountains of mass testing that the research hospital put in place after France confirmed the first cases of the virus in February.

In recent weeks, France has seen an increase in ICU admissions and deaths from COVID-19. In an attempt to curb the numbers, the cities of Nice, Marseille and Bordeaux have imposed new restrictions on bar hours and the size of gatherings.

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