Scientists are worried about these variants but not surprised by them. Like all viruses, Coronavirus is a shapeshifter. Some genetic changes are inconsequential. Researchers have recorded thousands of tiny modifications in the genetic material of the Coronavirus as it has hopscotched across the world. The British variant has affected how the virus locks onto human cells and infects them. These mutations may allow the variant to replicate and transmit more efficiently. So, the question arises – ‘does India need to be worried? Will the vaccines that underway work? How do we go about being more cautious and if at all we need be stop its spread, what should we do?’
What is the new COVID strain?
The variant has been named ‘VUI – 202012/01’ (the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020). It is not uncommon for viruses to undergo mutations; seasonal influenza mutates every year. Variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been observed in other countries, such as Spain as well. This variant includes a mutation in the ‘spike’ protein. According to researchers, this virus has at least 17 changes of mutation. Changes in this part of the spike protein may result in the virus becoming more infectious and spreading more easily between people.
How harmful is the new COVID strain?
While most mutations are either harmful to the virus or have no effect, a few mutations in this new variant looked as if they could potentially affect how the Coronavirus spread. According to reports, the new variant of the SARS-COV-2 could be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant! What’s more worrying is that this strain is affecting people in the age group of 30-60yrs which is fairly young. Preliminary data from the UK shows that the virus is spreading quickly in parts of southern England, displacing other variants that have been circulating for months. But there are still several unanswered questions that are multiplying as fast as the new strain of the virus: Does it make people sicker? Does it mean prolonged treatments? Will vaccines that underway work?
Will current vaccines work against the new COVID strain?
Vaccines target multiple parts of the protein itself, we don’t need to be worried about them. More genetic surveillance is needed.
What precautions should we take to stay safe from the new COVID strain?
The best way to curb the infection is to stick to the rules – wash our hands, wear a face mask and maintain social distancing. The recommended control measures to limit the spread of the new variant continue to be testing, following the existing guideline of isolation, and abiding by the restrictions.
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