Covid variants: Will they ever stop coming?

Fitness & Health:

According to a Public Health England report released on Friday, nine in every 10 new coronavirus cases are now the Delta variant. PHE data also indicated that Delta, first identified in India, is 64 percent more transmissible than the previously dominant Alpha variant that originated in Kent, and the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

But with more and more in the UK getting vaccinated and a long lockdown ongoing, how many more of these variants can we expect before things finally calm down?

Scientists have said there is no technical reason why these variants won’t keep coming as the virus tries mutating to evade our immune systems and vaccines.

However, this doesn’t mean the population is doomed to an endless cycle of illness and restrictions.


The human population will eventually get to a point where it manages to live with the virus, as it does with the flu, with annual jabs and herd immunity.

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But there is a way to go before that can happen, and this virus is unprecedented, experts say.

Dr Aris Katzourakis, who studies viral evolution at the University of Oxford, told the BBC: “This virus has surprised us a lot. It is beyond anything we feared.

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“The fact it has happened twice in 18 months, two lineages (Alpha and then Delta) each 50 percent more transmissible is a phenomenal amount of change.”

He said it was “foolish” to try to put a number on how many variants we could see, but he could easily picture further jumps in transmission in the coming years.

However, Dr Katzourakis said there are limits to what a virus can do.

He said: “Ultimately there are limits and there isn’t a super-ultimate virus that has every bad combination of mutations.”

He added there is a chance, as happens with some viruses, that its mutations would eventually be its downfall.

He said: “It is quite possible that changes in the virus that make it better at avoiding vaccines could end up compromising its ability to transmit in an absolute sense.”

For example, the Beta variant first identified in South Africa, which has a mutation that helps evade the immune system but hasn’t managed to take off, meaning it’s become less transmissible.

However, the Delta variant does have mutations that both help it spread and partially dodge immunity.

Dr Katzourakis said it’s hard to predict how Covid will play out – different viruses have different techniques.

For example, Measles is explosive and highly contagious, but one bout leaves immunity for life.

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Whereas the flu, for example, is far less contagious but constantly mutates to dodge immunity.

Professor Wendy Barclay, a virologist from Imperial College London, said: “We’re in a really interesting, intermediate and somewhat unpredictable phase.

“It is difficult to predict how that’s going to play out a year from now.”

Meanwhile, all the population can do is keep getting vaccines when called – more than 44 percent of the UK’s population are now fully vaccinated, with the likelihood of serious illness reduced with each jab.

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