'Super mutant' variants may emerge as Indian Covid was 'just the beginning'

‘Super mutant’ Covid strains even more infectious than the Indian variant are likely to emerge as more people get vaccinated, an expert has warned.

Professor Ravi Gupta, a University of Cambridge professor of clinical microbiology, said the virus will try to become more efficient at spreading from person to person under ‘severe’ pressure from the lack of new hosts.

He said this was ‘not necessarily a terrible thing’ as most people who catch coronavirus after the vaccine rollout will experience it as a mild illness.

But Covid’s ‘unpredictable’ nature means ‘we shouldn’t be overconfident’ about the odds of eliminating it as a killer among vulnerable groups, Prof Gupta added – warning that the mutations seen in the Indian variant are ‘just the beginning’.

Asked how to prepare for new variants, he told a press briefing: ‘I think that we have good vaccines, now we need to keep the pressure on vaccine designers, manufacturers to adapt vaccines.

‘Secondly, the virus is going to do some weird things. I mean, this is just the beginning.

‘I think it’s going to recombine, you’re going to get super mutant viruses, I believe.

Prof Gupta continued: ‘But that’s not not necessarily a terrible thing, but the virus is going to do very unexpected things because the amount of pressure on it is going to be severe, so it will adapt.

‘We know that people still get chronic infections and that’s how this all happens in general.

‘It’s hard to say what is going to happen, but the virus is going to find ways of becoming more infectious – you can see that already, when it’s under pressure it will try and be more efficient in transmission so that it can achieve the job with fewer virus particles.’

The Cambridge professor suggested the jab’s effectiveness is not a guarantee against future deaths due to the difficulty of keeping people inoculated.

‘We see with flu, we have a lot of deaths each year from flu in vulnerable groups.

‘We try to vaccinate them first to protect them, but it doesn’t always work.

‘But I don’t think we should say it’s going to be like flu automatically, I think that this is an unpredictable virus and we shouldn’t be overconfident at any stage.’

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