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'Economy can bounce back, but the dead won't come back'

By SHOBHA WARRIER
Last updated on: May 06, 2021 08:01 IST
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'Unless some serious steps like complete closedown are taken, it will have disastrous consequences.'

IMAGE: Lilaben Gautambhai Modi, 80, wearing an oxygen mask, sits inside an ambulance as she waits to enter a COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad, May 5, 2021. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

In this concluding part of the interview with Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com, Dr Anoop Thekkuveettil, senior scientist in the division of molecular medicine at the Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology in Thiruvanathapuram, warns that unless some serious steps are taken, it will have disastrous consequences.

IMAGE: A medic collects a swab sample for COVID-19 testing at the Capital Hospital in Bhubaneswar, May 5, 2021. Photograph: Sarangadhara Bishnoi/ANI Photo

You have been studying the virus for one year now. In fact, last year you told me, we would not be talking about the virus next year. Here, we are talking about it and the situation is even worse...

Last year, we didn't know much about the virus. It was a learning process all along. We scientists learnt a lot in the last one year.

This virus behaves in a very strange way; it knows how to modify itself. Usually viruses do not have that kind of genes. This has a proof-reading gene in it which is a highly evolved gene.

In our human body, we have proof-reading genes. The SARS viruses have this proof-reading gene, and that is why SARS viruses are feared by all. It is a cousin of the MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) which was lethal.

The influenzas viruses are seasonal, but the covid virus doesn't have any season to infect people.

What is needed is, we should have all the data on the virus and all its mutants, to know how much it is affecting the health of the patient.

For that, we should have a clear genome picture. Only then we will know how the landscape is changing, like which one is dominating? Which is more infectious? Is it going to bypass our vaccination protection? It is critical to have answers to all the questions.

But we have very little genome sequencing happening in India and it is a problem.

For example, we should do proactive sequencing to know, whether the vaccinated people are getting infected and if so, why.

Even in RT-PCR, we should use both the confirmatory genes. But currently many of the current RT-PCR kits, we are using only one confirmatory gene of the virus. Instead we should have double confirmatory gene RT-PCR to know whether any of the genes are undergoing serious changes. This will help us short list the viruses to sequence.

Otherwise, like in the UK, we have to sequence 100,000 genomes, which we cannot afford.

So, we need to develop plan to sequence genomes immediately.

At Sree Chithra, we developed a new PCR kit where we put both the confirmatory genes together so that we can find out whether those specific genes are changing. This will help us understand the virus much better and faster. This information is needed to control the pandemic immediately.

IMAGE: Beneficiaries wait to get vaccinated in Mumbai, May 5, 2021. Photograph: Girish Srivastav/ANI Photo

The healthcare system has collapsed completely with no ventilators, no oxygen cylinders, no beds...

Yes, we will be stretching all our limited infrastructure if the numbers go up exponentially.

One of the things that is missing in India are scientific discussions.

IMAGE: Mumbaikars gather in large numbers outside the BKC Jumbo COVID-19 vaccination centre, May 5, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

After the first wave, when there was a belief among ordinary citizens that the virus had gone away. Do you feel we should have utilised the time to educate people that the virus was still there, and people should have been properly warned about multiple waves that came in other countries?

IMAGE: Dr Anoop Thekkuveettil. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr Anoop Thekkuveettil

Yes. It was very unfortunate that people dropped their guard. We should have been very careful as the virus was amongst us.

Then these elections came and people were moving more, crowding more and that too without masks. This was the best environment for the virus to multiply and we gave it on a platter to the virus. So, we are in a bigger mess now.

Unless some serious steps like complete closedown are taken, it will have disastrous consequences.

A closedown will have a negative impact on the economy. Economy can bounce back, but the dead won't come back.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/ Rediff.com

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The War Against Coronavirus

The War Against Coronavirus