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TUESDAY, September 27, 2022
Future Covid-19 cases may look like the common cold

Future Covid-19 cases may look like the common cold

SUNDAY, October 24, 2021

GEORGE TOWN: A child with a runny nose or fever a few years from now may give the impression that he only has a case of the common cold although he may actually be infected with Covid-19, says an expert.

This is the possible scenario painted by Universiti Sains Malaysia virologist Dr Kumitaa Theva Das, who said when the SARS-CoV-2 virus is always present, or endemic, then it will be very rare for Covid-19 carriers to exhibit severe symptoms, as can already be seen with the small percentage of patients now.

“The hope is that Covid-19 will be added to the list of the four endemic coronaviruses that are constantly in circulation,” said Kumitaa, who added that because influenza (flu) viruses have a higher mutation rate than SARS-CoV-2, flu vaccines need to be reformulated practically yearly.

“This may not be needed for Covid-19,” she said, adding that at present, the country’s vaccination programme seems sufficient as it does not seem like any of the newer variants of SARS-CoV-2 are outpacing Delta.

Kumitaa added this “breathing space” presents the opportunity to build the pandemic-preparedness, enabling the country to be self-reliant to ensure that our measures are sustainable.

“Aspects like ensuring our genomic sequencing capacity is good, developing cheap and rapid test kits, training personnel, and supporting vaccine development in our country will go a long way in battling any future infections we may face,” she said.

When asked if the country can achieve zero Covid-19 cases, Dr Kumitaa said the more likely scenario would be that the virus might be eradicated in some countries, while continuing to spread and cause outbreaks from time to time.

She said it is unlikely that any nation would go through major lockdowns again for extended periods, though that would depend on factors like the immunity of the population and whether the virus continues to evolve. Another important aspect to consider is determining what the animal or natural reservoirs for SARS-CoV-2 are.

“Diseases can persist if there are various animal hosts, as this means that the virus can spill back into people. At the moment, it is known that the virus is infectious in minks, but not so much in other animals. Diseases become slightly challenging to eradicate if they are zoonotic (capable of infecting both humans and animals),” she added.

“However, despite animal hosts, public health measures and vaccination have played a huge role in the success of the steady decline of cases and deaths from SARS-CoV-2.”

Kumitaa said Malaysia seems to be recovering from Covid-19, as reflected by the downward trend in cases, and this is expected to continue based on the vaccination rate and preventive measures implemented by the health authorities.

She said when Covid-19 is endemic, it is still important to observe public health measures and to continue with active surveillance to prevent sudden spikes in cases.

While there is a declining prevalence of variants of concern globally, vaccine inequity may lead to the emergence of new variants, she said, adding that there should be regular monitoring, especially for international travel, and constant risk assessments.

Kumitaa said closer to home, the public should continue adhering to practices adopted at the start of the pandemic to protect those who have yet to be vaccinated, such as children and adolescents.

“Minimising large gatherings and being cautious of how we interact with one another, doing frequent testing, donning masks, sanitising regularly, and making sure places are well-ventilated will enable us to protect ourselves and our loved ones,” she said.