On Wednesday, the Union Health Ministry declared that it had detected a new ‘double mutant’ variant of the SARS CoV2 virus. The entire nation and most of the world have been in lockdown on and off since last year when the pandemic began. The emergence of new variants suggests that we may be in for a prolonged period of lockdowns and a new way of living.
1. The discovery of the new double mutant variant in India was announced on Wednesday. There already exist other variants—Brazilian, UK, and South African—that are being transmitted in 18 states of the country so far.
2. The double mutant virus is formed when two mutations occur together in a single replication process when the mRNA code is being copied from one host to another. The variants are being studied to check if they are more or less infectious.
3. In most cases, mutations are just as receptive to the vaccine as the original virus it was developed for, and usually do not vary much in how infectious they are. However, in some cases, like the South African and UK variants, they prove to more infectious and maybe even result in more fatalities.
4. According to studies conducted on some samples from Maharashtra, it was found that the double mutant variant had a new spike gene which makes it somewhat immune to antibodies and more infectious to its hosts. These variants are capable of infecting even those who have recovered from Covid-19, although it is said that the infection will be much milder.
5. The ability of the double mutant variant to more efficiently circumvent vaccines and the immune system means that achieving herd immunity might be near impossible. Herd immunity is usually achieved when people are vaccinated or become immune after recovering from a round of infection.
6. The new variant showed two kinds of mutations—E484Q and L452R—which come together in it to jointly evade the immune system. The joint appearance of these two mutations has increased in the samples since last year.
7. The government continues to maintain that the rise in Covid-19 cases in India lately is not inherently because of the new variant but it will be conducting more tests to come to a solid conclusion. The rise in cases can simply be attributed to the population lowering their guards and going back to their ‘normal’ lives.
8. In fact, officials have said that the number of mutations and variants only continue to grow because most people do not follow appropriate government-mandated safety guidelines. When the opportunity to transmit increases, so do the chances of mutation which could result in the birth of new, possibly more dangerous variants.
9. The double mutant variation has been classified as a Variant of Concern (VOC), having been detected in 15-20% of recently tested samples. It was noted that this variant may have developed for almost 6-8 months but is only now being detected.
10. The number of cases in India has witnessed a sudden sharp rise. It is now required to produce a mandatory negative RT-PCR test to be allowed to enter certain states or cities. International flights have once again been halted until April 30. Vaccinations have so far been administered to senior citizens and those over 45 with co-morbidities. Anyone over 45 can get vaccinated from April 1 onwards.