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Coronavirus Has Been Circulating Since Late 2019, UK Research Says

Coronavirus Has Been Circulating Since Late 2019, UK Research Says

The coronavirus has been circulating around the world since late last year, a study in the United Kingdom has found.

No Herd Immunity Yet

Researchers at the University College London Genetics Institute told CNN Tuesday that they studied data of more than 7,600 COVID-19 patients to conclude that the virus must have spread extremely quickly across countries after the first transmission to a human host in late 2019 ,

They ruled out a scenario where the virus may have been spreading much earlier, which would have given hope that large populations had already been infected with the virus and become immune.

Francois Balloux, one of the genetics researchers who was part of the study, told CNN that at most 10% of the global population has been exposed to COVID-19.

The researchers further pointed out in the paper published in the journal "Infection, Genetics and Evolution" that the coronavirus strains in all patients they studied shared a "common ancestor" that can be traced to around late last year, CNN said. 

"Our results are in line with previous estimates and point to all sequences sharing a common ancestor towards the end of 2019, supporting this as the period when SARS-CoV-2 jumped into its human host," the research says, according to CNN.

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Mutation Doesn't Make Coronavirus More Lethal, Researcher Says 

Mutation is the natural course for a virus, and it doesn't necessarily mean that it is becoming more or less lethal, Balloux said. 

"All viruses naturally mutate. Mutations in themselves are not a bad thing and there is nothing to suggest SARS-CoV-2 is mutating faster or slower than expected. So far we cannot say whether SARS-CoV-2 is becoming more or less lethal and contagious," Balloux told CNN.

France Says First COVID-19 Case Was In December

Researchers in France earlier this week said that the country's first case could be traced back to December, France 24 reported.

As of Tuesday, there are more than 3.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases across the globe, including 257,239 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

There is no approved treatment for the coronavirus, but multiple vaccine candidates — including those from Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ: MRNA), Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: INO) and Oxford University — are in clinical trials.

Gilead Sciences Inc.'s (NASDAQ: GILD) antiviral drug Remdesivir has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use for patients who fall critically ill from COVID-19.


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