By Elizabeth Sitotombe
THE world’s messy battle against COVID-19 continues to rage on.
Many are currently nursing blows wrought by the Delta variant.
No sooner does life appear to be going back to some kind of normal than other deadly variants of the virus emerge.
The continued mutation of the coronavirus is disheartening and calls for continued alertness. One can never get used to the sickness and death caused by the pandemic.
COVID-19 survivors tell harrowing tales of their battle with the disease.
Many have testified that they would not wish the virus upon anyone, even their worst enemies.
Even after successfully fighting off the virus, many are taking weeks, even months, for the symptoms to completely disappear.
Viruses mutate over time and while some may have little significance, others have the potential to change a virus’s make-up, thus making it highly transmissible and sometimes more severe.
Because of emerging variants, we cannot afford to fold our hands and be complacent.
Yes we are trying to return to some sort of normalcy but the truth is that things will never be the same again, especially as the virus is still with us.
When the Delta variant was first discovered as a variant of interest, no-one imagined it would fuel a major Third and Fourth Wave on a global scale, hence why it is important to keep track of all variants that emerge.
Variants are categorised in two ways; as ‘variants of interest’ or ‘variants of concern’.
Variants of concern
According to the World Health Organisation, a variant of concern translates to a rise in transmissibility, an increase in fatality and a significant decrease in effectiveness of vaccines, therapy and other health measures.
Variants of interest
This is a variant with a genetic capability that affects characteristics of the virus, such as high transmissibility and disease severity.
There have been four dominant variants that have been termed ‘variants of concern’ and have fueled the First to Fourth waves globally.
The Alpha variant, officially reffered to as B. 1.1.7; the Beta variant or B. 1.351; the Gamma variant, also known as P. 1; and the Delta variant, referred to as B.1.617.2.
The variants of interest currently on watch include Eta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda and, most recently, Mu.
In an update, WHO announced that it had identified a new coronavirus variant of interest named Mu or B. 1621.
The Mu variant was first detected in Colombia in January 2021 and has since been found in more than 30 countries.
The concerning factor about Mu is the fact that it has similarities to deadlier variants such as the Delta variant, which is the cause of over 90 percent of infections worldwide.
In a statement, WHO said further studies were taking place in order to understand it better.
Eta variant, also known as lineage B.1.525, is a SARs-COV-2 virus strain that carries the same E484K mutation as found in the Gamma, Zeta and Beta variants.
First identified in the UK and Nigeria, the Eta variant is being monitored for its potential in reducing the effectiveness of some monoclonal antibody treatments.
The Iota variant, also known as B.1.526, was first detected in New York in November 2020. The variant was later detected in all 52 States and other jurisdictions in the US, as well as in 27 countries across the world.
However, evidence indicates that the variant does not increase the risk of breakthrough infections in vaccinated or previously infected individuals.
This variant has been detected in 29 countries so far.
It is also known as C.37.
The variant has been spreading rapidly in South America, particularly in Peru, where the earliest documented samples of the virus were detected in December 2020.
In a report, WHO said that Lambda has been associated with substantive rates of community transmission in multiple countries, with prevalence rising over time, concurrent with increased COVID-19 cases.
Two weeks ago, there was panic after South African scientists from the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) of South Africa detected a potential variant of interest C. 1.2.
This variant was first discovered in May this year in South Africa and has since been detected in several other countries.
However, WHO has said the C. 1.2 is a minor variant for now and does not appear to be spreading. They are monitoring it as it mutates.
Vaccines remain our biggest fighting chance; they have proven to be the best method of preventing severe illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19.
Vaccination, hand-in-glove with WHO protocols, will give the virus less chances to mutate.
Measures implemented by the Zimbabwean Government have yielded positive results as the number of infections has decreased greatly.
Zimbabwe has received much praise from organisations and countries for commanding a successful vaccination programme.
Traditional leaders and churches are playing a leading role in encouraging their respective communities to get vaccinated.
The number of people who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has almost reached five million, with 12,5 percent of the population being fully vaccinated. The Government aims to inoculate 10 million people by year end.
Lockdown Level Four restrictions were last week adjusted to Level Two following a decrease in the number of new infections and deaths.
Health practitioners have, however, expressed concern at the growing level of complacency and have warned against an imminent Fourth Wave.
Dr H. Chimuka, a health practicioner, warned the public against getting lulled into a false sense of security because of the decreasing numbers, adding that “…COVID-19 is still around.”
At this point we need to do all it takes to fight the pandemic — handwashing, sanitising, social/physical distancing and, above all, getting vaccinated.