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Press Release and Video: Omicron is intrinsically less virulent than earlier variants but the next one is likely to be more severe – Omicron could be an evolutionary mistake: Professor of Clinical Microbiology, Cambridge University, Ravindra Gupta.

Karan Thapar

In an interview where he talks about his path-breaking research which explains why the disease caused by the Omicron variant is less virulent than earlier variants, one of Cambridge University’s highly regarded professors of Clinical Microbiology has gone on to say that Omicron looks like “an evolutionary mistake” and the next variant “is likely to be more severe”. However, Prof. Ravindra Gupta also pointed out that the variant recently found in Southern France, B.1.640.2 and also called IHU, with 46 mutations, is not the more virulent variant he is speaking about. B.1.640.2 is, as of the moment, not a matter of concern. The WHO has said, on the basis of what we know, it’s neither spreading faster nor causing severe disease.

In a 20-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Prof. Ravindra Gupta, Professor of Clinical Microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, first explained his research which establishes why Omicron leads to mild disease compared to other variants of Coronavirus. The first reason is to do with Omicron’s cleavage efficiency which means its ability to enter the cells of the body is restricted and not as effective as earlier variants. The second reason is to do with the way Omicron fuses with the cells of the human body. Unlike Delta, it doesn’t lead to the creation of giant infected cells called Syncytia.

Both these reasons explain why the disease Omicron causes is mild and that, in turn, explains the data we have from South Africa as well as the UK which shows that though cases of Omicron are exploding the incidence of severe disease as well as hospital occupancy is limited and a lot lower than it was during the Delta wave.

Prof. Gupta said his study – which, in this respect, is very similar to five or six done elsewhere in the world – shows that Omicron is very good at infecting the air passages, what’s called the bronchus, but not as good as Delta in infecting lungs. This is another reason why the disease Omicron causes is mild and lasts for 3-5 days rather than severe and leading to lung impairment.

However, during the course of this interview, Prof. Gupta said he believes the Omicron variant is “an evolutionary mistake”. He says he thinks the next variant will be “more severe” and “like Delta”. Please see this part of the interview to fully understand Prof. Gupta’s basis for this prediction.

In the interview, Prof. Gupta also answered questions about reports that show AstraZeneca may be better than mRNA vaccines at producing cellular immunity, which vaccine is the best as a booster after two jabs of AstraZeneca/Covishield and whether, in the face of Omicron, we need to change our strategy for handling Covid and, as Dr. Fauci has said, focus on hospitalizations rather than the total number of cases. Prof. Gupta also speaks about the variant found in Southern France called B.1.640.2 or IHU.

The above is a paraphrased precis of Prof. Ravindra Gupta’s interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire. Although recounted from memory this precis is not inaccurate. However, it’s important you see the full interview to understand the nature of Prof. Gupta’s work which provides a scientific explanation for data that Omicron leads to milder disease.

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