The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) is analysing the variants of the novel coronavirus, and its mutations and strains in India. It is also part of the SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia, set up by the government of India for sequencing coronavirus genomes. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, CCMB director Rakesh Mishra spoke about the reasons behind the surge in Covid-19 cases, the transmission of the double mutant virus and the need for maintaining Covid-appropriate behaviour at all times. Excerpts:
Q/ Are coronavirus mutations responsible for the surge in cases in the second wave?
A/ There is no evidence to indicate that, as there is no mutant or variant which is in majority anywhere except in some parts of Punjab. Even the double mutant is only 15 per cent to 20 per cent [of the cases] in Maharashtra. In other states like Kerala, we do not see any major emergence of any variant. Having said that, any variant can spread by only one means and that is when people are exposed to it or to an environment where people are not wearing masks. So, no matter what variant it is, if we are protecting ourselves, we can avoid that. The reason for the spread is that we have become relaxed and have opened up our malls and markets, relaxed the restrictions at airports and have indulged in parties and rallies.
Q/ The UK variant was found in Punjab. South Africa and Brazil variants have also been found in India. What do you make of it?
A/ This is wholly expected given that travellers from these countries have come in large numbers and moved around. Many Indians from the UK travel to and from Punjab. We also had the farmer’s protests and some movement may have taken place there as people from Punjab were involved. But it is not really lethal, so it does not matter. Preventive measures are important.
Q/ Are these variants more severe and how do they impact the body?
A/ There is no information or evidence that suggests that any of these variants are symptomatically more troublesome. In fact, the results show the opposite. But at the same time, if the number of cases increase because of carelessness, then some people who will be infected will have comorbidities and those people may end up in ICUs and may lose their lives. So, it is important that the number of cases are kept at a minimum. Masking, social distancing and vaccination will help.
Q/ What impact does the second wave infection have on human body?
A/ The wave is just a number on the graph. As for its impact on the body, nothing is established with proof. Transmissibility is high only when we do not protect ourselves. The double mutant has been around since December, but the increase in cases began showing only in late February. So, mutations will keep coming. And the impact of mutants on the human body is not very different from each other.