A more infectious mutation of coronavirus has been found in Indonesia as cases in the country surge.
The southern Asian country reported 2,858 new infections on Sunday, data by the health ministry showed, below the previous day’s record 3,308 but above the past month’s daily average.
Its total number of cases was 172,053, with 7,343 Covid-19 fatalities.
The “infectious but milder” D614G mutation of the virus has been found in genome sequencing data from samples collected by the institute, deputy director Herawati Sudoyo said, adding that more study is required to determine whether that was behind the recent rise in cases.
The strain, which the World Health Organization said was identified in February and has been circulating in Europe and the Americas, has also been found in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia.
It is said to be 10 times more infectious than others but appears to be less deadly.
Syahrizal Syarif, an epidemiologist with the University of Indonesia, warned Indonesians must remain vigilant, as his modelling suggests the country may see its caseload rise to 500,000 by the end of the year.
“The situation is serious …. Local transmission currently is out of control,” Syarif said, adding that the number of infections found daily could have been much higher if laboratories were able to process more specimens in a day.
The capital Jakarta on Sunday saw a record daily increase of more than 1,000 cases, which the city government linked to a higher mobility rate during a mid-August independence celebration.
“There needs to be an awareness and a collective effort, be it from the government or the people, in addressing the rising number of cases,” Dwi Oktavia, an official at the Jakarta health agency, said in a statement, urging people to stay at home and wear a face mask when they must go out.
Paul Tambyah, president elect of the International Society of Infectious Diseases in the US, said there is evidence that the new strain coincides with a drop in death rates which suggests it is less lethal.
He said most viruses tend to become less severe as they mutate.
“Maybe that’s a good thing to have a virus that is more infectious but less deadly,” he said.
“It is in the virus’ interest to infect more people but not to kill them because a virus depends on the host for food and for shelter.”
Earlier this month, Noor Hisham Abdullah, Malaysia’s director-general of health, urged people to become more vigilant after what is believed to be the D614G strain was found in two recent clusters in the country.
He said the new strain was 10 times more infectious but warned that vaccines currently in development may not be effective against it.
However Dr Tambyah disagreed saying said the mutations would not change the virus enough to make potential vaccines less effective.
He said: “The mutant affects the binding of the spike protein and not necessarily the recognition of the protein by the immune system, which would be primed by a vaccine.”
Last month Professor Nick Loman, who is part of the Covid-19 Genomics Consortium, said D614G is the most dominant in the world and it is spreading quicker in the UK than the original strain from Wuhan in China.
Prof Loman, who is based at the University of Birmingham, also said D614G appears not to be as deadly.