World

Mutation in third of COVID-19 samples: WHO

By AAP Newswire

Almost 30 per cent of genome sequencing data from samples of the COVID-19 virus collected by the World Health Organisation have shown signs of mutation but there is no evidence this has led to more severe disease, a top WHO official says.

"I think it's quite widespread," WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told Reuters on the sidelines of a briefing held by the UN journalists' association ACANU in Geneva.

The UN agency has so far collected 60,000 samples of the disease, she said.

Scientists at Scripps Research this month found that by April the mutated virus accounted for 65 per cent of cases submitted from around the world to a major database.

The genetic mutation in the new coronavirus, designated D614G, significantly increases its ability to infect cells and may explain why outbreaks in northern Italy and New York were larger than ones recorded earlier in the pandemic, they concluded in a study.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic at the WHO, said at Friday's briefing the mutated strain had been identified as early as February and had been circulating in Europe and the Americas.

"So far, there is no evidence it leads to more severe disease," she said.