Although the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has returned with a vengeance this winter for those not taking precautionary measures, health experts claim that so far no concrete evidence is available if the pathogen responsible for causing Covid-19 has significantly mutated and increased its transmissibility.
They said that like several other countries, Pakistan is in the grip of a second Covid-19 wave that started four or five weeks ago, and this is now evident from the large-scale hospitalisation.
But the virus has not mutated to an extent where it is not detectable any more through the gold standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, they added. “SARS-CoV-2 is very much detectable through PCR, and that’s why its cases are on the rise,” epidemiologist Dr Rana Jawad Asghar told The News on Wednesday.
“I haven’t heard if it has become difficult to test. PCR and rapid tests have their own limitations and are never 100 per cent accurate.”
He said the country is facing a fully fledged second wave, “which I believe started four or five weeks ago. Hospital indicators are always three to four weeks delayed”. All viruses normally mutate with time, and SARS-CoV-2 has slightly mutated too, he added. “SARS-CoV-2 is now more infectious compared to past couple of months, but I haven’t heard it has become more lethal. But if it’s infecting more now with the same mortality rate as before, we’ll see higher morbidity and mortality numbers because the infections may be higher than before.”
‘People to blame’
Dr Faisal Mahmood, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University, said people should continue taking precautionary measures instead of listening to unproven and unscientific theories.
“The behaviour of the virus has not changed yet, but its the people’s behaviour because of which the number of cases is constantly on the rise across the country.”
He said viruses definitely mutate, but so far no evidence is available whether it has become more lethal, undetectable or even more infectious than before. “If people don’t take precautionary measures, the number of cases will increase and, therefore, the number of people with severe disease complications will also increase.”
He added: “Not to detract from the message about taking precautions, but the claim of the virus mutating and turning deadlier is pure sensationalism and has no scientific validity.”
Pulmonologist Dr Javed Khan also believes mutations in the coronavirus have not been proved, although the number of cases is constantly increasing during the second wave, but mortality is lower than before.
“Maybe hospitals and doctors are better prepared and more experienced in diagnosing and treating these cases earlier. The public is also better informed and seek help earlier. Initially in the pandemic, social stigma attached to Covid-19 was much higher and people used to hide their illness.”
Prof Sohail Akhtar, a pulmonologist associated with the Indus Health Network, also believes there is no change in the behaviour of the coronavirus, as it is infecting the people who are not taking precautionary measures. He said there is no evidence if the virus has mutated and become more lethal.
“The coronavirus is doing what it did during the first wave: infecting the people who are not complying with the SOPs [standard operating procedures]. Cases are on the rise, which shows people are testing positive for the infectious disease.”
He added: “Unfortunately, we don’t have any reliable data or research being carried out on the behaviour of the virus, as we haven’t done any community study.”