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Corona Mutates: Can We Afford Another Lockdown By Binny Yadav

Even as corona 19 mutates to new virus strain, we can’t afford to siege the world once again. Only option is to use the knowledge of past one year of pandemic and be prepared with better health infrastructure

Our worst fear is here. For the world reeling under pandemic for almost a year there couldn’t have been worse news than the news of new corona virus strain.

This is what has been warned by the leading virologists world over ever since covid 19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020.

On December 19, after UK prime minister Boris Johnson warned of a “highly contagious new corona virus strain” France, Germany, Italy. The Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Israel, Canada, India and others cut off travel indicating a fresh concern regarding the repeat of lockdowns during Covid 19.

As people were preparing for an already subtle Christmas celebration came PM Boris’ statement, “Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the (corona) virus, the potential risk it poses, it is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.”

The confirmation of a new corona virus strain and its contagious nature has sure set in a panic impacting the world markets which witnessed a sharp plung.  Global equity tumbled, with the news of new corona virus strain.

UK equities were down just over 2 %, while European equities fell around 2.5 %. Nasdaq futures were down 1.2 %. Gold which usually rises during the times of turmoil instantly nosedived 1.3 % by December 22 triggering an all-round panic situation once again.

The new corona virus strain has come at a time when the world had started to learn to live with many ‘new-normals’ of covid 19 pandemic and has been expecting for the worst to get over soon.

With new lockdowns in UK and many other places as a precaution to contain the mutated new corona virus strain, the new question which is hitting everyone is, “are we heading for a repeat of another lockdown”?

Really? Can we afford one?

What is the new Corona Virus Strain?

In early December, member of United Kingdom’s Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium found in their dataset a particular variant of Sars-Cov-2 to have spread rapidly over the last four weeks. COG-UK officials named the new variant as B.1.1.7.

In an analysis published on December 19, they said the new variant has “unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in the spike protein”.

The spike protein is the protruding component that the virus uses it to latch on to enter the host’s cells. 

Early warnings of mutation in corona virus

As early as March 2020, when WHO declared Covid 19 a pandemic, many leading virologists had already warned of the similar situation.

When the world over governments were mulling over how earliest to create a vaccine for corona virus the virologist and many such scientists had been warning of mutation in Sars-Cov-2

David Montefiori, who directs an AIDS-vaccine research laboratory at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina wondered how the deadly virus behind the pandemic might be changing as it passed from person to person.

Montefiori is a virologist who has spent much of his career studying how chance mutations in HIV help it to evade the immune system. The same thing might happen with SARS-CoV-2, he had expressed than.

Another scientist Bette Korber, an expert in HIV evolution saw the mutation appearing again and again in samples from people with Covid-19. Korber, a computational biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, had already started scouring thousands of coronavirus genetic sequences for mutations that might have changed the virus’s properties as it made its way around the world.

Some experiments have suggested that viruses carrying the variant infect cells more easily.

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How to check new corona virus strain

Lockdown and panic can neither be an option nor an answer to the new situation.

We have seen the lockdowns. We have much experience of handling corona virus and we have the road maps of dealing and managing symptoms of covid 19.

While sealing the borders and blocking the air routes are obvious acts amid the panic which might prove right but there is no guarantee that we can still contain the flight and spread of the new corona virus strain.

If the virus has mutated in United Kingdom it can also mutate in any other part of the world too.

The viruses rarely vanish. These are either contained through vaccines or cured through new medicines. With coming of new corona virus strain instead of getting panicky it is important to exploit the experiences gained through trials and tests of one year of covid 19 strain.

The world is better placed today vis a vis handling of pandemic situation in general and corona virus in particular.

Although lockdowns and physical restrains have been tried and tested time and again in past months but the world cannot afford to be put to siege again and again as there is no guarantee that after new coronavirus strain there won’t be any other mutation in corona virus.

No place is safer than other

In view of new corona virus strain the only way out is to be prepared. And how?

Given the fact that our health staff and the frontline workers are already fatigued dealing through the pandemic no country can afford to put further pressure on them.

Putting economy once again at the standstill is again not an idea which the world can sustain when we still have not been able to recover back to pre-covid times.

The only option in such a scenario is to invest in health care system and low-cost health infrastructure and last-mile and swift connectivity of the healthcare mechanism which is cost effective and delivered at the electric pace.

Instead of locking down the countries and economies, it is time governments rise to a different level of preparedness.

Spread and peak of another variant of corona would be catastrophic on the already tattered healthcare systems and already fatigued healthcare professionals.

The world cannot afford to see its doctors, nurses and other frontline staff giving up in want of governments’ alacrity.

For now, it is not known if the new variant of corona has immunity through vaccination. What we know for sure is that Sars Cov-2 is hard to stop by travel ban when the virus is already in the air and spreading for many weeks.

It is time to be swift to track, improve the surveillance and act to create the infrastructure to deal with the imminent threat.

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