It is with alarm that the world is hearing the news of the emergence of a mutated Covid-19 in the United Kingdom. Not much information, barring that the mutant version — named as B.1.1.7 — is 70% more transmissible than Covid-19, is available with the scientific community. But scientists are working on the mutant, and we would have more information sooner than later.
What does 70% more transmissibility mean in terms of the behaviour of the mutant virus? We are yet to know the answer(s). But there are a few questions that this 70% mark raises. As of now, in an open space, keeping oneself 6 feet away from an infected person brings down the chances of infection to almost zero. But, will it be 10.2 feet — 70% more — for the mutant virus? Scientists told us 15 minutes’ cumulative close-exposure within 24 hours to an infected was needed to have enough viral load to infect a person, so, would the exposure time get reduced to 4.5 minutes for B.1.1.7.? Or, is it that 70% less viral load will be enough to infect a person? Will the known metrics like the livability of the virus on surfaces like plastics, stainless steel, paper, etc, get increased by 70% more time? Many such questions, and we do not have answers for any of these questions at this point of time.
The new mutant was first reported in September in the U.K., and by mid-November, 50% of the cases was from this version. And by middle of this month, the cases by the mutant surged to more than 60%, forcing the UK health authorities to say that the version was out of control. The new version had already reached the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Italy and South Africa. Incidentally, in Australia the mutant virus was found in a person who came from the U.S.A. So the mutant already made a transit in America. Did it make more contacts in America? As there was a window of two months between the first reported case and the alarm bells ringing, it would be highly likely that the new version had travelled both vertically and horizontally from the U.K. to large parts of the globe. Has it arrived in your country? Guess! So we need to be more careful about this virus.
Will the vaccines already developed work against the reloaded version? It will most likely do, scientists say. A virus needs cumulative mutations over many years to create an “escape route” from vaccine. This is the conventional scientific understanding. But, will it be applicable to Covid-19? We do not know. The new mutant went through 23 mutations, it was reported. One positive aspect of the vaccines developed against Covid-19 is that they can be tweaked to accommodate genitival changes from mutations. Will this hold true for the reloaded version? We will have the answer in a few days as the American scientists are on it.
As of now, there are too many unknowns about the mutant virus. Hence, it is worrying. However, scientists say there is no reed to be panic. But we have to be more cautious about the virus by strictly adhering to the socializing and hygiene protocols that are in place. Let’s tune more information from our scientists, the saviors of humanity.