By Tara Hebbar and Aahana Khemani
Coronavirus has almost taken over the world, quite literally, and just when it seemed to be reaching the end, the virus was found to be mutating. It is a scientific fact that any virus will always be mutating. However, the variations may differ. Recently, there have been many individuals who have been infected with a new variation of COVID 19. Though the symptoms and general causes are the same, this new virus has been said to spread faster.
Just like it’s predecessor, the variation virus has already begun it’s infiltration into the world. Discovered in the UK, it was responsible for a 3rd nationwide lockdown, and even though flights were cancelled by several countries from and to the UK, the variant now finds itself in 45 different countries.
One of the differences between the CoV-2 and COVID-19 is that it contains a genetic mutation “spike” protein which the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID 19) uses to infect human cells. On 23rd December, the UK’s Centre for Mathematical Modelling for Infectious Diseases primarily estimated transmission of the new strain would be 56%-70% higher. “This new variant is showing 17 changes in the genome, this is a very large change.” Founder-director of ICMR Epidemiology department in Chennai, Gupte said. Gupte adds on saying that this is why the transmission rate is reported to be higher. Another worrying fact is that this strain is affecting people in the age group of 30-60 years which is fairly young. Preliminary data from the UK shows the virus is spreading quickly in parts of southern England, displacing other variants that have been circulating for months.
A question that a lot of people have is, will vaccines that are underway work? Dr. Gupte says, “But knowing this virus, as we have been looking at this virus since last December, it is very stable. So, the new variant of this virus will also be controlled by the same vaccines which are under development.” Director-Critical Care, Fortis Hospitals Mumbai, Dr Pandit informs that vaccines target multiple parts of the protein itself. “We don’t need to be worried about them. We should be doing more of genetic surveillance. In fact, I feel people should vaccinate themselves. While there is a section of people encouraging others to not take the vaccine shots, I urge people to not be overwhelmed by this. The lobby, as it raises doubt about the vaccine, will only make the vaccine developers more GMP compliant and will ensure that we get efficacious vaccines.”
The “older” version of the virus was already spreading fast enough to take a journey around the world and infect large populations of large countries. Hence, the fear is that this virus that spread “even faster” could double the damage. During COVID 19, many countries have issued quarantine/lockdown measures. Speaking economically, this has led to offices, businesses, shops, markets, airlines, railways, and much more closing down. Each organization shutting down leads to a descending economy, speaking in general terms. Nevertheless, the sanitation and mask industry’s profit has also needless to say boosted. In the first quarter of 2020 itself, the Dettol and Lysol company’s “revenue for UK based consumer-goods group rose 12.3%.” This making $4 billion! Therefore, one can only predict what will happen to the economy with the new strain.
While there are still several unanswered questions about this new strain of COVID 19, what we can do is be careful and hope for the best. This new strain should just serve as a reminder of the fact that though we all would want this tiresome and deadly pandemic to end, the virus has no plans of finishing soon. So, it is essential to avoid going out, and if you are, wear a mask and wash your hands regularly.