News of a new coronavirus strain being found in the UK has India worried. India Today TV got in touch with two medical experts to get some much-needed answers on the new Covid strain and what it means for India.
As 2020 draws to a close, the news of a mutated version of the coronavirus being found in the UK has once again upped global anxiety.
On Monday, the Ministry of Civil Aviation temporarily suspended flights from the UK to India.
Millions have already entered strict lockdown restrictions in London and south-east England owing to the new strain. What’s worse is that reports suggest that this strain of Sars CoV-2 is over 70% more infectious.
So where has this virus come from? What will be the implications? What do those in India need to know? These are some of the questions running in the minds of one and all.
IndianMuni got in touch with two medical experts to get some answers on the new Covid strain.
HOW HAS SUCH A SITUATION COME ABOUT?
The fact that the prevalence of the new strain (VUI 202012/01) has been gradually rising since October suggests that it is a hardier strain. Genomic modelling data as well as viral load data from patients suggest that the new Covid strain is more transmissible.
The strain has been reported to have 23 mutations of which two deletions in the viral genome (at position 69/70 and 144/145 in the spike protein) may be associated with increased transmissibility.
However, human behaviour has also changed, and whether the increased transmissibility can be attributed solely to the infectivity of the new strain and not compounded by changes in human behaviour is still not known.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE WORLD?
Increased infectivity does not mean increased virulence (severity). There have been instances in the past in which viruses have mutated to strains that may have been better at transmission but resulted in milder disease.
We will need to wait and look at patient outcomes associated with the new strains to better understand the implications for the world.
As of now, it should be a wake-up call for those who thought that the pandemic was over and we could stop taking necessary precautions.
HOW DOES THE VIRUS MUTATE?
Viruses are known to constantly mutate, and the Sars-CoV-2 is no different. Most of these mutations occur by random chance as the virus replicates, and several different strains of the virus have been noted since the start of the pandemic.
Sometimes viruses also mutate due to selection pressure, i.e., if antibodies present in the population threaten the existence of the virus, mutations could occur that are purposeful to evade host defences.
These types of mutations tend to occur when a significant proportion of the population develops antibodies either from past infections or from vaccination and generally take years to occur.
It is probable that the newly discovered mutant Covid strain falls into this latter category.
WHAT DOES THE NEW COVID STRAIN MEAN FOR INDIA?
It means that we cannot afford to lower our guard.
The precautions that need to be in place (masking, sanitizing, social distancing) and the avoidance of the 3Cs (closed spaces, crowded spaces, close contact) should be adhered to, as the velocity with which the virus spread across the world makes it likely that these mutant viruses will find their way to India sooner or later.
WHAT PRECAUTIONS ARE NEEDED TO PROTECT ONESELF FROM THE NEW COVID STRAIN?
No new precautions need to be added to the existing ones. We must keep reminding ourselves that even though our Covid numbers seem to be getting better, the pandemic is far from over, and we need to work hard to prevent ourselves from getting a false sense of security.
DON’T BELIEVE IN RUMOURS
Dr Om Srivastava, Director Infectious Disease, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, says that the new strain of the virus has the potential to go in several directions and that for now not much is known about it.
Symptom-wise it is no different from the Covid-19 virus seen till now.
Dr Srivastava is also a member of Mumbai’s Covid-19 task force. He adds that one need not be swayed by rumours and instead should focus only on scientific evidence.
“While in itself it is not unusual for the virus to have this kind of mutation since it is the nature of the virus as small as this to keep changing but what needs to be looked at is the number of people infected and those who have succumbed to this strain. We have been irresponsible in our own conduct with social distancing and keeping masks on. Just because the lockdown restrictions are removed doesn’t mean we can go back to the old way of life because this is in some part a consequence of that kind of practice that was in our lives before March 2020,” he said.