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Studying host genetics crucial to containing deadly virus: Dr William Hall

Dr William Hall, an internationally renowned virologist and co-founder of Global Virus Network, is in the state with a tight schedule.

Published: 05th March 2020 06:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th March 2020 06:39 AM   |  A+A-

Dr William Hall, co-founder, Global Virus Network

Express News Service

Dr William Hall, an internationally renowned virologist and co-founder of Global Virus Network, is in the state with a tight schedule. Dr William, who is also the senior advisor of Kerala’s flagship Institute of Advanced Virology (IAV) at Thonnakal, gets candid with TNIE senior reporter Dileep V Kumar on the sidelines of COVID-19 outbreak at the global level and the positive cases reported from India.
Excerpts:  

COVID-19 is inching closer toward meeting the definition of a global pandemic. It has reached all continents. What’s your take on the same?
It will be too early to say something about the virus as it is only two-and-a- half-months old. But COVID-19 has turned up to be a unique virus with unique features. It is spreading very fast. In the first week the virus displays low mortality, but in the second-week chances of mortality are high. If you get a chance into the third week, the mortality will be very very high.

The positive cases reported in India are imported cases. Local transmission is almost absent. What could be the reason for the same?
Considering the population density I am very much surprised that an outbreak (COVID-19 ) is yet to be reported in India. One of the reasons for the outbreak in China is its population density. I think what gives India the edge of not becoming susceptible to COVID-19 might be the high temperature and humidity. To substantiate it, I would say that MERS/SARS and yellow fever are yet to make an impact in India. It is a known fact that viruses could thrive in low temperatures.

Coming to the research aspects, a slew of drug trials are on. Also, the World Health Organization has sought the help of scientific organisations. What are the activities of the Global Virus Network in aspects of COVID-19 prevention and control?
GVN is in collaboration with 32 countries. It is holding regular strategic discussions with its members regarding COVID-19. Many members of the GVN are initiating various projects regarding diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics to combat the rapidly expanding, novel outbreak. Also, it will be crucial to study host genetics as it will provide answers on why a particular population or geography is susceptible to the virus while others are not.

What will be the future of COVID-19?
The next six months will be interesting. But my gut feeling is that by June or July the COVID-19 cases will drop. At the same time, once China opens its locked down cities, the chances of upsurge are high.

Finally, you are the senior adviser of IAV. Your plans for making it a centre of excellence.
To become a centre of excellence, IAV has a long way to go. There is a meeting with the IAV authorities and the CM. A plan of action will be prepared to make the institute functional. My aim is to make the institute reliable for research. IAV should start with diagnostics as it will trigger research in various areas.



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