The French population faces a weaker threat from the wave of coronavirus sweeping the country as the original strain mutated into a more resistant version, a leading scientist has suggested.At the start of the summer vacation in mid-July, France was only experiencing 500 infections per day, but by the end of August, that number had risen to 7,000 per day. Over the past three days, it has averaged 12,400 people.
In contrast, the death rate in France is currently 53 on average per day, against nearly 1,000 per day at the height of infections in April.
A close examination of the new mutant strains has shown that while the virus has become more contagious, it is apparently less dangerous, which means fewer hospitalizations.
The first French hospital for research into infectious diseases has identified the mutations thanks to the collection of numerous data, said Didier Raoult, head of the IHU Mediterranée Infection in Marseille.
Analysis of Covid-19 tests in recent months has shown seven different mutations, Mr Raoult told the French Senate.
“We compared 100 cases from July to 100 previously. They are less serious, so something is going on with this virus, which makes it different, ”said Raoult, 68, professor of microbiology. “The mutations we have are a rather degraded version of the original form. At least, that’s our impression.
A mutation could have arrived in Marseille after the restart of the ferry crossings with North Africa in June, then disappeared again in August, transforming into another form of the virus.
Mutating to become less deadly is something that viruses sometimes naturally evolve to continue to exist, just like the flu virus.
The French results could explain that despite the second wave that hit Europe, there were fewer hospitalizations than at the beginning of the year.
However, Professor Raoult has already sparked controversy after promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine, the antimalarial drug hailed by Donald Trump as a cure for Covid.
Professor Raoult’s claim that the virus mutates has also been questioned by scientists, including the French government’s chief scientific adviser. But the claims were supported by significant amounts of data from Marseille researchers. The same hospital also quickly developed a coronavirus test in February which led the city to have very low infection rates.
But with people traveling to the south of France for their summer vacation, infections have spread considerably among those under 40 and Marseille has become a hotspot for the coronavirus.
It is now under severe restrictions, including the closure of bars and restaurants just after midnight and public gatherings limited to just 10 people.