‘Need to be on alert for coronavirus mutations’

COVID-19 cases are declining along with incidence of hospitalisation and deaths in most places across the country. Yet, scientists have cautioned people not to let their guard down but continue to follow safety measures of wearing face masks, and maintaining personal hygiene and social distancing.

“All indications are that the number of cases are becoming less and less, even if factoring the rapid antigen testing which has just about 50-60% accuracy. Importantly, the number of patients in hospitals are less and the number of deaths too has come down as is being indicated by sero-surveillance surveys. But, we need to be alert for any further mutations which could lead to more viral loads and infections,” says CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology director Rakesh Mishra.

This is because the evolution of the virus is such that “it wants to spread and hence, will keep creating variants without perhaps bothering the hosts yet could cause strong infectivity”. The present situation comes as a huge relief to everyone but it does not mean “we are safe as a nasty one could emerge as can be observed in the UK and other variants. Similarly, an independent variant could emerge from here and spread quickly,” he explains.

The saving grace is that symptoms of the newer variants are similar even if the spread is faster. While there could be multiple factors leading to the reduction in the infection rate across the country despite fears of elections, festivals and agitations leading to a surge, the “good news”, according to Dr. Mishra, is that the new strains noticed have not led to any re-infections and are not bypassing the acquired immunity levels.

Scientists the world over are poring through the genetic analysis of the different virus strains to understand the disease better as the long term effects on the brain, heart and other organs is not yet known. But, amid all these, the vaccination process initiated is vital, he asserted. “Even a few months of protection due to the vaccination may turn the tables, otherwise there is a chance for the virus to resurrect. Take it when your time comes,” he adds.

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