Coronavirus tests Photograph:( Reuters )
We must keep updating ourselves to tackle it and mutations are proving to be the biggest challenge. They have been reported in the UK, South Africa, Brazil, the US, even in India. Earlier this year, India reported a case of double mutation
An evolving enemy is of the worst kind as tried and tested methods may not work in its case. The coronavirus is one such evolving enemy. It has mutated thousands of times. Some mutations are more dangerous as they are difficult to trace. So, what should we do?
We must keep updating ourselves to tackle it and mutations are proving to be the biggest challenge. They have been reported in the UK, South Africa, Brazil, the US, even in India. Earlier this year, India reported a case of double mutation.
Why are these variants important? Because they have super-charged the pandemic. In Brazil, the p1 variant is driving the surge in cases. In India, some experts say mutations are behind the massive second wave. So, tracking these changes is important. Remember the thumb rule of 2020: trace, test and quarantine.
But tracing mutants is hard work as normal RTPCR test isn't working on them. In some cases, the mutants are escaping the test. So, here's what happens. You get a test done, your result is negative, but you're actually infected, and you'll probably discover it when your condition is much worse. This is a very scary scenario.
The US Food and Drugs Administration has warned of this as genetic variants could possibly mislead the RTPCR test. It's happening in India too and elsewhere in South Asia. So far, the RTPCR was your best bet to detect the presence of a virus. Not anymore, it seems. The mutations pose a new challenge.
So, what's the workaround here?
Doctors will have to bank on their diagnostic chops. There are some classic covid symptoms, the lungs for example appear glassy in a CT scan but even a CT scan can sometimes mislead. The fool-proof method, we're told, is genome testing. What's that?
It is finding genetic code of the mutant. Unless we know this code, we won't recognise the mutant and so, a test won't detect it. So, we are basically operating in the dark. Going forward, genome sequencing must be our eyes and ears. Otherwise, even vaccines may not help.
Let's look at the numbers, this time last year versus right now. First, let's look at the daily caseload. This is what the last five days looked like: more than 746,000 cases were reported last Thursday but by Monday, the numbers plateaued. There were 588,000 cases reported globally on Monday.
In case of daily deaths, last Thursday was a peak. More than 13,000 deaths were reported on Monday. This came down to 8,800 and now, this sample is too small to draw trends.
But projections have been made for as far as August 1. This is one such model made by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. What does it say?
At the current rate of vaccination and mutation, we could be looking at more than 4,730,000 deaths. That's if the current trends hold, but what if things get worse?
In a worst-case scenario, global deaths could cross the five million mark. That's a nightmare scenario, but if everyone wears a mask and social distancing is strictly imposed, we can still save lives. A worst-case scenario, unfortunately, looks like this: more than four million deaths.
Let's face it, none of these scenarios are ideal, but that's where we are heading. Africa and Latin America are struggling with vaccination. Jabs are running out and mutants are running riot. There is just one saving grace, last year the virus came out of nowhere. Most countries did not have the infrastructure to handle the cases, so serious infections inevitably led to death. In 2021, that should not be the case. We have added millions of hospital beds and thousands of intensive care units. So, even patients with the mutant strain are surviving. The trend of 2021 is, higher caseloads but fewer deaths.
Remember the basic rules, they remain the same: masks, social distancing and sanitising. Mutant or not, the sanitiser will get it. And vaccinate like there is no tomorrow. Governments must pump more money into vaccine-making, dispel all notions of vaccine hesitancy and make herd immunity, their number one priority.
The coronavirus is like a Maths problem, whose variables keep changing.