Despite its insidious and rapid spread to 210 countries and territories, the novel coronavirus is a stable creature. It is not mutating, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Friday. It’s not known how many India-circulating virus genomes have been sequenced across how many clusters to arrive at this conclusion. 

Nonetheless, this corroborates what other geographies are reporting. It isn’t the capriciousness of SARS-CoV-2, but rather the individual immune and collective medical response to the virus that has led to a wide variation in how it has ravaged countries in the northern and southern hemispheres. A viral divide, as it were. 

The data on mitigation is too limited and the virus behaviour too novel to make any inferences on whether this divide will continue or blur in the weeks or months to come. A pandemic transmission study published published Science Projecting the transmission of dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the post-pandemic period Read more  in the American journal Science last week says, among other things, that intermittent social distancing may be necessary as far as into 2022.

It’s a view that many Indian virologists and microbiologists also hold, urging India to mount serological studies to determine the extent and duration of immunity to SARS-CoV-2. The earlier correlation of a decades-old tuberculosis vaccine, known as BCG, providing protection against the virus is turning out to be just that—a correlation. The World Health Organization (WHO) doesn't doesn't World Health Organization Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination and Covid-19 Read more recommend it. According to Gagandeep Kang. director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, Haryana, “a recombinant BCG trial has been approved for the Serum Institute of India, Pune, and will recruit a few thousand participants.”

“Right now, the virus is very virulent,” says Dr Shobha Broor, a former virologist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. “When a virus adapts to a host and spreads like this, the virology says, slowly, its virulence becomes less. Do we have any evidence of this from the cases so far?” 

We must know the number of infections that are severe, at a large scale how many are asymptomatic, how many are severe and how many are moderate. And then focus our study on the asymptomatic. Data from other countries shows it is 25-30%, adds Dr Broor, a former member of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). She now consults with the SGT Medical College in Haryana. 

“Other than the total number of cases and deaths, no strong data is coming out of ICMR,” says a virologist who has long been associated with many viral outbreaks.


Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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