DR.DLAWER ALLADIN: CORONA VIRUS MUTATED
Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen is the President of MERI, the Middle East Research Institute. He stressed that the new variants of Coronavirus, which are currently spreading across the globe, are descendants of the same old Coronavirus after mutations in its RNA genome, and humans have to get used to such variations. Prof. Dlawer Ala’Aldeen to
The mutated variants were first detected in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa.
ME: What is the difference between this new virus which has been detected in Britain, and the virus of Covid-19?
The new variant is not a new virus, but a mutated version of the same Coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Viruses need to constantly change their genes in order to stay alive. In most cases the changes are minor with little impact, therefore we don’t always become aware of them. However, sometimes the genetic changes have serious consequences, effecting the virus’s behavior. Remember, apart from the UK variant, two other new and fast- reading
variants have emerged in Brazil and South Africa.
ME: Do we have more clinical information on these new variants? Scientists have been watching the virus from the
outset. The new UK variant was detected in September, and the ones in Brazil and South Africa emerged in July and October, respectively. However, evidence for their spreading capacities were determined only recently. It’s too early to say how virulent these new viruses are, but the early indications suggest that the genetic changes have largely effected on the Spike protein which helps the virus to better adhere to human cells. That’s why it’s spreading faster. This is important because this deadly virus can spread even faster than before.
ME: Do you think these new variants pose a new and bigger threat to mankind? The rapid spread of the virus causes an increase in the number of patients, beyond the capacity of hospitals. It will not put humanity in a new danger. The
clinical features of the disease have not changed, and even if it proves to be slightly more deadly, it is not to the extent of putting humanity in a much bigger danger.
ME: Is there a Vaccine against these new variants? Or does it need more research before a new vaccine is produced?
The early indications suggest that the current vaccines would be effective against the new variants too, but we are waiting for solid clinical evidence to prove this. Even if the existing vaccines were not effective, it would not take long before new vaccines are produced because they will not require new clinical trials.
ME: Do you think it is usual for a new variant to emerge before the old one ends? Yes it is, and even more variants are expected to emerge which we will have to face in the future. The virus will always try to bypass the human immune attacks, and its only way is to change its genes and re-emerge.But this does not necessarily mean the mutations will make the virus much more deadly. Importantly, experience with Influenza virus shows that after vaccination patients suffer milder disease than the first infection.
ME: Do you think people can lose hope because of these emerging viruses as life becomes more difficult? No. I say it with confidence that life will go back to normality and humans will not despair. This virus is not any more deadly than the Spanish Flu, yet people forgot the latter within years. Covid-19 will follow the same path. Similarly, the virus will remain circulating among people and we co-exist together.
ME: Do you think that this virus can shut the world down and countries close their gates, leading to another conomic collapse? No. Permanent closure of gates would be a lost battle. The emergence of new variants should not cause a whole new global shut down, because countries will manage them as they did for Covid- 19. Of course, countries try to prevent the fast spread of the new variants, but once the new variants spread, countries adjust their policies accordingly. The spread of new variants across the globe is a matter of time.
ME: What is your advice for people on how to protect themselves from these new variants? My advice is to follow the same guidelines as for Covid-19 but be more stringent. We need to better adhere to hygiene and social distancing.