Coronavirus is much less dangerous than it used to be, a leading Italian infectious diseases specialist has said.
The virus has weakened from being like an “aggressive tiger” to a “wild cat,” according to Professor Matteo Bassetti.
He told the Sunday Telegraph that coronavirus is weakening on its own and could even die out without the need for a vaccine.
But several other experts disagreed and criticised Professor Bassetti for being over-optimistic.
Professor Bassetti said: “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.
“The clinical impression I have is that the virus is changing in severity. 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 of patterns.”
Professor Bassetti, said there could be several reasons for what he saw as the weakening of the virus, including widespread lockdowns meaning people get lower doses of the virus if they are infected.
He added: “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.”
Professor Bassetti, an infectious diseases specialist at the San Martino General Hospital in the northern Italian city of Genoa, has made similar claims over the past few weeks.
He said at the start of June: “The strength the virus had two months ago is not the same strength it has today.”
But other scientists have disagreed strongly with Professor Bassetti’s claims – and even called them “dangerous” for possibly giving people a false sense of security.
Dr Oscar MacLean of the University of Glasgow hit out at Professor Bassetti’s comments in early June: “These claims are not supported by anything in the scientific literature, and also seem fairly implausible on genetic grounds…
“Making these claims on the basis of anecdotal observations from swab tests is dangerous.
“Whilst weakening of the virus through mutations is theoretically possible, it is not something we should expect, and any claims of this nature would need to be verified in a more systematic way.
“Without significantly stronger evidence, no one should unnecessarily downplay the danger this highly virulent virus poses, and risk the ongoing society-wide response.”
Dr Angela Rasmussen, from Columbia University in the US, added: “There is no evidence that the virus is losing potency anywhere.”
Italy has been one of the countries hit hardest by coronavirus with more than 34,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.