- The children could be more susceptible to this variant than the ‘original’ SARS-CoV2 virus.
- It is very unfair for the students. They lost so many months because they had to stay at home, and we know only a minority have facilities for online learning. But right now, we need to focus on saving lives
Prof. Neelika Malavige, the head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Sciences of the Sri Jayawardenapura University after an extensive research last week announced that the new variant of Covid-19 that is being spread in the country is airborne and people have to take extra precautions to protect themselves. In an interview with Daily Mirror Prof. Malavige stressed the importance of taking measures not to allow any more variants entering Sri Lanka, as it would have a huge impact on health, education and the economy.
Q Can you tell more about the latest variant of Covid-19 virus that is being fast spreading here and what are the major differences from earlier strains?
We have identified we have the B.1.1.7, UK variant. The WHO has currently name SARS-CoV2 three variants in the world as variants of concern (VOCs). This is because either they spread much faster, cause more severe disease, or cause re-infection in those who previously had infection or escape vaccine induced immunity. The transmission of B.1.1.7 has shown to be 50% higher than other variants and that’s why it has been named as a VOC.
The problem is every country has a limited capacity to admit and treat patients. The capacity is different in each country and its difficult to rapidly increase the capacity, when the number of cases rapidly increase. When the supply and demand don’t match, you have a huge problem. Then patients that can be otherwise saved, cannot be saved. This is what is happening in India.
Q Health authorities have said that unlike previous one, this new variant is spreading among the younger people generation as well. Could you say which age groups of children would be more susceptible to this variant and what actions parents should take to protect their children?
Some studies have also shown that it increases disease severity and may cause illness in younger individuals as well. The children could be more susceptible to this variant than the ‘original’ SARS-CoV2 virus. It is a good step that schools we closed for several reasons. Apart from it preventing children from getting infected, it also significantly reduces transmission.
"We will have to immunize a large proportion of the world population. Not just Sri Lanka but the whole world, to achieve herd immunity and stop transmission"
Q Under this condition do you think that we should open schools, Montessoris, tuition classes and any other event where children would gather?
No. Not right now. It is very unfair for the students. They lost so many months because they had to stay at home, and we know only a minority have facilities for online learning. So this is a huge problem in Sri Lanka. But right now, we need to focus on saving lives.
Q Now that there is no vaccination programme in line or at least until the vaccination restart, what should people do to protect themselves from the Covid-19 pandemic?
I think its important for those who can work from home to do so.
For private establishments to devise plans to continue work as remotely as possible. No one to have physical meetings as online meetings can easily be held. Stop all gatherings etc…
"But it is very important to make sure we do not import any more variants into this country. Such importation has a huge impact on health, education and the economy"
Q You had earlier viewed that the patients with initial strain of virus were not infectious after 10 days. What about the patients with this new variant?
There is no difference in the period of infectivity.
Q According to your opinion how long it would take for us to completely be free from Covid-19? And how long we should have to live with Covid-19 pandemic?
We will have to immunize a large proportion of the world population. Not just Sri Lanka but the whole world, to achieve herd immunity and stop transmission. So, it will take a long time and until such time, we will have ups and downs. But it is very important to make sure we do not import any more variants into this country. Such importation has a huge impact on health, education and the economy.
Q What is your message to Sri Lankan people at this moment?
Please stay at home. Do not go out unless necessary. There are some who need to go out and get on with their work, but others who can stay at home-please do.