COVID19 update, June 22, 2020: Is the virus weakening from a “tiger” to a “feral cat”?; EU taking a harder stance on China

(1) Italian infectious diseases specialist Prof. Matteo Bassetti, who works at the St. Martin Hospital in Genoa, makes the claim that the virus has mutated into a weaker form, reports the Daily Telegraph (among many other outlets). Here is an archive copy: http://archive.is/1EWSp

Coronavirus has downgraded from a “tiger to a wild cat” and could die out on its own without a vaccine, an infectious diseases specialist has claimed.
Prof Matteo Bassetti, head of the infectious diseases clinic at the Policlinico San Martino hospital in Italy, told The Telegraph that Covid-19 has been losing its virulence in the last month and patients who would have previously died are now recovering.
[…] 
“The clinical impression I have is that the virus is changing in severity,” said Prof Bassetti.
“In March and early April the patterns were completely different. People were coming to the emergency department with a very difficult to manage illness and they needed oxygen and ventilation, some developed pneumonia.
“Now, in the past four weeks, the picture has completely changed in terms of patterns. There could be a lower viral load in the respiratory tract, probably due to a genetic mutation in the virus which has not yet been demonstrated scientifically. Also we are now more aware of the disease and able to manage it.
It was like an aggressive tiger in March and April but now it’s like a wild cat. Even elderly patients, aged 80 or 90, are now sitting up in bed and they are breathing without help. The same patients would have died in two or three days before.
“I think the virus has mutated because our immune system reacts to the virus and we have a lower viral load now due to the lockdown, mask-wearing, social distancing. We still have to demonstrate why it’s different now.

Wishful thinking? Though this sort of thing has been known to happen in the past. Viruses that kill off their hosts quickly (such as Ebola and MERS) don’t get to spread their genome as well as those who just make their hosts sick, so there is “evolutionary pressure”, if you like. 

[UPDATE: A reader comments: “I don’t remember where I read it, but I recall a journal article from back when I was a bio/pre-nursing major that postulated that no disease with an infection mortality rate above ~5% would ever go global despite air travel, unless artificially spread, or had a crazy long (>1month) incubation period, because any bug that deadly kills enough people that the infected population ends up quarantined almost by default, no matter where. It seemed quite logical to me.”]

There is, of course, another possible explanation. Vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly prevalent in northern Italy, especially in winter. With the summer weather and people again being able to go outside — particularly indulge in the Italian pastime of sitting outside with one’s coffee and/or pasta — people may simply be less deficient and their immune systems better able to face the challenge of the virus.

The proof in the pudding would be to sequence the genome of COVID19 from this putative “new strain” and see if it really is different in anything that would affect the spike, the replicase (a.k.a, RdRp), or another part of the viral machinery. Absent that, my money is on vitamin D.

(2) Die Welt  (in German) reports on unprecedented complications in the relations between the EU and China, in the context of an EU summit meeting in Brussels on the subject.  The misinformation/Fake News campaign to diffuse the regime’s responsibility for the epidemic is one factor, the de facto abolition of Hong Kong’s internal autonomy is another. Then there are the “reshoring” efforts to bring vital production of medical supplies and PPE back to Europe in order not to be dependent on a fragile supply chain.

The article also cites measures to impede hostile takeovers of struggling companies by Chinese state-backed “bargain hunters” . 

They say about pressuring China,  “Trump does it his way, we do it our way, [albeit] less aggressive [sic].” The journalist comments that China has thus far not gotten any significant pushback for its behavior, and that pressure from European side might make them think again.

(3) The American Chemical Society has a special virtual issue on COVID-19 research across its extensive portfolio of research journals in various areas of chemistry, plus (alas) some what I shall charitably describe as “advocacy papers” and opinion pieces. But that still leaves a lot of original research papers: one that jumped out at me was this one about the role of glutathione deficiency (see our earlier blog post)

https://doi.org/10.1021/acsinfecdis.0c00288

ADDENDUM (hat tip: Mrs. Arbel). Dr. Shelton, about 15 minutes into this video, has some advice for people enhancing their vitamin D through sunbathing: “he says after sun exposure don’t shower off the body oils on large body areas … that’s where the vitamin D is still being made for a day …”