by Kristin Cho
Image: Anna Shvets/Pexels
Since the rise of Coronavirus, scientists’ greatest fear was the possibility that the virus would go through inevitable evolution in its life cycle—learning to adapt and find better ways to enter into the human body. The new variant found in U.K. last December was only the first of multiple variants that are now circulating world wide. As of January 29th, a total of 51 cases have been confirmed in Ontario, and evidence shows that the variant could be up to 56% more transmissible than the original virus. Under higher risks of getting the virus, how will we have to prepare to mitigate the worse possible impacts of the changed dynamics of the pandemic?
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Executive Chairman for Los Angeles Times, states that the virus has protein on its surface with a receptor binding domain that hits the human body: this part is going through mutation. As the virus mutates, the antibodies will not recognize and neutralize the mutated variants, thus making it easier for the virus to attack cells. The virus, an intelligent machine with the ability to penetrate further into our internal systems, has figured out to latch on stronger and increase speed and infectivity. As these variants appear to transmit more readily and evade the immune system, scientists are working to learn how variants differ and how the variants would affect vaccination and testing. Dr. Adalsteinn Brown stated that “The new [variants] will likely be the dominant version of the virus by March .” What scientists most fear now is that the virus will mutate to the point that it will bypass the ability of tests to detect it. These variants which cannot be mitigated by current vaccines, through natural selection, will have more opportunity to replicate and overtake more people.
Virus mutation as a natural process is difficult to predict and even harder to prevent with the human aspects of the pandemic. Social and cultural influences on behaviour, decision-making, and stress and coping are exhibited well in many ways. For example, the value of expressing oneself (through hugging, direct argumentation, etc.) is a reason why interpersonal transmission is more likely in independent cultures. In addition, the need for tighter reinforcements is needed for cultures that prioritize freedom. Although Canada’s society is based on collectivist values, it also has been profoundly impacted by many individualist principles built in.
Despite Dr. Bonnie Henry being ‘confident’ that variant transmission isn’t widespread and the fact that the Canadian government is taking immediate and decisive action, including mandatory testing of incoming international travellers and providing additional layers of protection, citizens must not lower their guard. High rates of infection leads to higher risk that new and more harmful variants will emerge. As lockdowns come to an end and in person learning starts to open once again in Canada, stronger regulations are important. For the new, stronger variants, will our preparations be enough?