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The virus throws up a new challenge – editorials

Announcements from London over the weekend that a new significant mutation of the coronavirus had taken hold in some parts of the country led to a reaction similar to the one in the early days of the pandemic. This new variant had more mutations than seen in any one variant before, scientists said, and had spread rapidly in the country’s south-east as well as the capital. Some of the mutations were previously linked to stronger infectivity. These three factors were enough to force the Conservative party government of Boris Johnson to announce a new lockdown in many parts of the country.

Within hours, thousands of people rushed to train stations to leave these regions before the restrictions came into force. Soon, several European countries, one by one, said they will not allow people who had been to the United Kingdom to enter. In many ways, this mirrored what happened in Wuhan at first, then China as a whole. Eventually, the virus spread over the world, which makes the reactions on Sunday by Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria — and on Monday by India — understandable.

But what happened at the beginning of the pandemic — the lockdowns, the travel bans and the inevitable outbreaks — is also a good reminder of the need to be pragmatic about any threat that there may be from the new mutation.

For now, it is not know if this variant causes a more serious disease, or if it can elude the immunity built by vaccines. What has been seen, however, that it is hard to stop the Sars-Cov-2 with travel bans, especially one imposed weeks since a virus has been in circulation (as this new variant has). The need at present is to improve surveillance, understand the new threat better, and quickly make any clinical, behavioural or scientific research adjustments we need to make without panicking.

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