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‘I feel your pain’: B.1.617

Most of you would remember my interview last July with SARS-CoV-2-XUV-700, the Chairvirus of the virus community’s COVID-19 task force. It was a journalistic coup because until then this virus hadn’t given an interview or addressed a press conference in 7,000 years.

Today, I am thrilled to present my second interview with a celebrity virus that is currently the toast of the entire microbe community — B.1.617, also popularly known as the ‘Indian variant’. I’m once again grateful to Potangoli Pvt Ltd for sharing with me the special bio-genetic software that enabled me to bypass the communication barrier between humans and viruses and conduct this historic interview. Edited excerpts:

Me: Congratulations on finally being adjudged a ‘Variant of Concern’ (VoC).

B.1.617: Thank you. We viruses work very hard — almost 27 hours a day — but we are not motivated by praise or glory. Tomorrow, if a better variant comes along, I will calmly take my jhola and disappear.

Me: Soon after getting VoC recognition, you swept the 2021 Pathogen Awards. Not many were surprised to see you win the award for ‘Most Promising Newcomer with a Double Mutation’, which was expected. But you also went on to win the awards for ‘Most Transmissible Virus’ and ‘Pathogen of the Year’. What’s the secret of your success?

B.1.617: It was a team effort, really. We have a great pool of experts specialising in immune systems, vaccines, and majoritarian dictatorships. Plus we have a leadership that takes expert inputs seriously. We viruses are lucky that way.

Me: You are the first bundle of Indian genetic material, after Gandhi, to have gained international recognition on such a grand scale, that too in a short span of time. You came into existence only last October, but have already been hosted in more than 45 countries. Mis-Fortune Magazine has ranked you No. 2 in its annual list of ‘World’s Greatest Leaders’. Tomorrow your wax statue will be unveiled at Madame Twosos in London. How do you feel about this?

B.1.617: I am humbled. But as the Indian variant, I am also proud that I could bring glory to my country on the global stage. Earlier, viruses would be ashamed to proclaim that they are Indian. Not anymore. Today, even British and American viruses sport Indian mutations and claim that their spike proteins were made in India — a small step for Indian pathogens but a giant leap for Indian nationalism.

Me: What was the thinking behind the decision to focus on India?

B.1.617: Globally, by mid-2020, our growth was plateauing, positivity rates were declining. We knew we had very little time to develop new variants and build a sustainable chain of transmission. We had to quickly decide on a country to invest in. The Brazilian variant was doing well, but many of us felt we needed a bigger demographic. When we heard that India was going ahead with the Kumbh Mela and several election rallies, the decision was made for us. When your government duly botched its vaccine procurement, we knew India would be a walk in the park, or a stroll in the cemetery, as it were. As the news spread within the corona community, all the variants wanted to rush to India and participate in religious events, and most of them did.

Me: Aren’t you worried about Covishield and Covaxin?

B.1.617: We did share our concerns with the Indian government. They have assured us that the extremely slow pace of vaccination will give us enough time to come up with new mutations that can comfortably evade the vaccine. I’m optimistic.

Me: I know a virus must do what a virus must. But is it absolutely necessary to kill so many humans?

B.1.617: I do feel your pain. Nobody hates killing more than viruses. In fact, the higher our kill-rate, the lower our transmission rate. But what do we do when your antibodies assault us without provocation? The moment they see us, they start attacking. We are then forced to defend ourselves. As a peace-loving liberal, I urge all antibodies to resolve their differences with us through dialogue instead of punching and kicking us. We are viruses, not fascists.

Me: What are your plans for the third wave? Aren’t you concerned that India would have learned its lessons from the second wave and be better prepared?

B.1.617: Unlike humans, we viruses take the long view. We are confident that no matter what happens, Indians will never demand better healthcare or make it an election issue. Our friends in the government have also promised to play the communal card every time there is an insistent demand for accountability. They have so far kept their side of the bargain — by not testing enough, fudging data, and letting COVID patients fend for themselves. So we are not unduly worried about the third wave. In fact, we look forward to working closely with the Indian government on the third, fourth, fifth and many more waves in the years to come.

G. Sampath, author of this satire, is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu.

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Printable version | Jul 27, 2021 8:32:33 AM |

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