Nearly one and a half years into an ongoing pandemic, the COVID-19 virus shows no sign of slowing down. New mutations are cropping up even as millions are vaccinated on daily basis and there have been frequent reports suggesting that there is worse to come. But on Tuesday as netizens exploded into discussion about a 'new strain' of the virus, things got a tad confusing.
You see, the discussion centered around the approach of something dubbed 'COVID-22'. The origin of the phrase appears to be Dr Sai Reddy, an Associate Professor of Systems and Synthetic Immunology at ETH Zurich. According to a report in The Sun, Reddy had recently spoken about the possible emergence of a new variant (in 2022) that could pose a "big risk." But while the immunologist may have have dubbed it COVID-22 to underscore his point, this is something of a misnomer. One that has since led to misconceptions on social media and even news articles.
“Covid-22 could get worse than what we are witnessing now," Reddy was quoted as saying. He contended that a combination of existing strains could lead to a new and far more dangerous phase of the ongoing pandemic. The name appears to be a natural progression, especially when one considers that he had reportedly also told German publication Blick that the Delta variant was 'COVID-21'. The problem however lies in the way the remark has been interpreted.
Contrary to what many may believe, COVID-19 did not obtain its name because it had 18 other predecessors or because it has been around for 19 years. In February 2020, the World Health Organisation named the new disease as COVID-19 after its year of discovery, aka 2019. The more technical nomenclature would be to call it SARS-CoV-2 - the name given by the ICTV. Prior to this, the virus had been known informally as the '2019 novel coronavirus'.
All variants that have been identified over the last year or so belong to the same genetic lineage as SARS-CoV-2. Caused by various mutations to the virus that causes COVID-19, they have been given names based on the Greek alphabet. As such, they are akin to 'upgrades' to the existing virus. COVID-21 and COVID-22, while an ominous prospect, would erroneously imply that this was a different virus altogether.
With Dr Reddy's remarks being reinterpreted time and again, countless netizens have now taken to social media platforms wondering how they had "missed COVID 20 and 21". Others took a grim outlook, raising questions about how many follow-up years the COVID-19 virus would linger. The original message, about possible mutations cropping up in the months to come appears to have been shelved.
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