What the future may hold for the Corona virus and for us
As the virus spread, more mutations emerged, resulting in more transmissible variants emerging. First came Alpha, which was 50% more contagious than the original virus, and sooner came Delta, which in turn was nearly 50% more contagious than Alpha.
“We are now in a delta pandemic,” said Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University. “So another increase, another spread of a slightly better variant.”
Although some experts were surprised to see the hyperinfectious variant, which contains more than a dozen observed mutations, emerge so quickly, the emergence of more transmissible variants is a biblical viral evolution.
“It’s hard to imagine that the virus would pass on to a new species that is perfectly formed for that species,” said Andrew Reed, an evolutionary microbiologist at Penn State University. “Some adjustment has to be done.”
But scientists do not expect this process to continue forever.
There are likely to be some basic biological limitations to how infectious a particular virus can become, based on its intrinsic properties. Dr. Bloom noted that viruses that are well adapted to humans, such as measles and seasonal influenza, do not constantly become more contagious.
He added that it is not entirely clear what the limitations are on transmissibility, but at the very least, the new coronavirus cannot reproduce infinitely quickly or travel infinitely far.
“Transmission requires someone to exhale, cough or somehow breathe in the virus, and it goes down into someone else’s airway and infects them,” Dr. Bloom said. “There are only limits to this process. It will never be the case that I sit here in my office, and give it to someone on the other side of Seattle, right?”