At a press briefing on Monday, World Health Organisation Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan had addressed the growing concerns in regards to the new Covid strain that has forced the UK to lockdown. While rumours about it being more severe and deadlier, and current vaccines ineffective had spread, Dr Soumya clarified that panic is not necessary.
“Even though we have seen several changes, some mutations, but none has made a significant impact on either the susceptibility of the virus to any of the currently used therapeutics, drugs, or vaccines under development,” she said at the meeting. Dr Soumya added that the SARS-CoV-2 (responsible for Covid-19) has mutated at a much slower rate than the influenza virus.
However, keeping in mind the situation, the WHO scientist emphasised the importance of constantly monitoring the virus on what is happening to it and focussing on bringing down the transmission. “Because the more viruses you have in circulation, the more chances of mutation and the more such variants that can arise. The bottom line here is to keep the virus transmission low and keep circulation low. Don't allow it to get out of hand and spread in the population. That way, we can keep the mutations down,” she added.
The United Kingdom reported the new virus strain on December 14 and added that it had higher transmission rates. However, Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program said that the original strain had achieved higher transmission rates than the new one at different points of the pandemic but “we still brought it down”. “That just put the barrel up a little bit. In some senses, it means we need to work harder. Even if the virus has become a little bit more efficient in spreading, the virus can be stopped,” he added.
Assuaging the other concerns, the scientists at WHO emphasise that the new strain has not made any significant impact on the diagnostic tests and vaccine development. They added that neither does the new virus escape detection nor does it characterise increased severity.