PESHAWAR: Khyber Medical University Peshawar in collaboration with Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad and Chinese Academy of Sciences is conducting a study to ascertain if Covid-19 virus is getting worse, slowing down or dying.

“The study is being conducted to determine if the ongoing reduction in number of positive cases in the province is due to the weakness of the virus or public awareness regarding adherence to social distancing precautions,” Prof Ziaul Haq, the vice-chancellor of KMU, told Dawn.

He said that the study was meant to see if the virus had potentially changed to a more or less infective nature. He added that they were in the process of getting ethical approval for study under which 200 positive samples including 150 from KMU and 50 from Public Health Reference Laboratory Swat would be sent to China to know about the status of the virus circulating in the province.

“The study would facilitate us in knowing if virus is getting worse or is slowing down or dying,” said Prof Zia, who is principal investigator of the study along with Dr Asif Ali of KMU, Dr Yasar Yousafazi of Public Health Reference Laboratory Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Dr Aamer Abbasi of Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.

Prof Zia says 200 positive samples will be sent to China and data will be analysed

He said that they were looking at changes in virus genes that might potentially change. He added that it would take 10 days to send samples to China after which they would analyse the data expected to be received from there within one month.

“This study will be the first proof of concept study in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the data of changes in genes will be correlated with clinical variables,” said Prof Zia. He said that it would also give them an idea about behaviour of virus genes with age groups and gene changes predicting susceptibility to infection and outcome.

He said that mutational profile of virus circulating in the province was important at that stage because number of cases and deaths had fallen and continued to slow down.

He added that there could be two reasons -- one the people started adherence to physical distancing measures and other SoPs, like wearing masks, hand washing and avoiding visiting crowded places or the virus had changed and it did not infect people anymore.

“The declining trend in the current outbreak needs to be investigated because we cannot afford showing laxity as the pandemic can become more dangerous in days to come. Once we have data, then it will be analysed and published the details of which will be given to the government,” said Prof Zia.

He said that the province had developed 11 public sector laboratories that could perform up to 4,500 Covid-19 tests per day but there was constant decline in testing as well as in positivity which needed to be investigated.

Prof Zia said that people could not be forced into testing because it was voluntary for them to undergo investigations. Since July 1, the province had been conducting 2,000 tests on average per day of which about 10 per cent were turning out to be positive. He said that it was good but they needed to know the reasons as to why the virus was not infecting more people as it did only a month before.

“The provincial government is supporting the study which is a big achievement as we would be able to plan our strategy on the basis of the outcome of the study,” said Prof Zia.

He said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had so far conducted 190,103 tests including 32,086 positive. With the passing of time, the testing capacity increased but number of tests and patients was going down, he added.

“Our government is conducting all tests free of cost. Once the outcome of the study is available, we would be able to devise strategy on scientific basis,” said Prof Zia.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2020