A year on, new Covid-19 strain threatens to bring back old chaos

The Delta variant has continued to spread in the UK and is now responsible for more than 90 per cent of new infections in the country | Image: Immayabharathi K

As a few Covid-19 vaccines began rolling out, the world crossed its fingers, looking forward to better times in the coming year, hoping to limp back from the aftermath of the pandemic. However, the tale took an ugly turn in mid-December when scientists in the UK reported a new variant of  SARS-CoV-2  — potentially more contagious than the present one — is on the prowl.

The UK faced a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases in the past week, causing panic and concern. Authorities observed alarmingly that the new viral strain was baring its fangs and rapidly replacing the other variants. The nation hastily implemented stricter lockdown measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Mutant alert

Like any other organism, viruses respond to survival threats by undergoing changes and adapting to stress. These evolutionary changes called mutations, occur in their genetic code. As viruses are positioned at the lowermost rung of the evolutionary ladder, they are prone to rapid transformations. Any change that gives the virus a better chance to invade host cells gives it an edge to survive. A classic example is the many variants of the influenza virus that emerge each year.

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