The Mu variant was being declared as the 5th variant of interest last week by the World Health Organization after it was detected in 39 countries.
It was reported that this new variant could be more vaccine resistant and could be upgraded to “variant of concern” if it proves to be more contagious and causes more severe illness, or evades the protection offered by vaccines.
According to FMT, a virologist from Monash University, Vinod Balasubramaniam said studies were being conducted on the new variant but Malaysia should continue to stay on guard as the variant could make its way here at any time.
“It will not be long, even a matter of weeks, before we see this new variant in Malaysia if strict measures are not taken soon enough.” he said, while making reference to the recent detection of the new variant in Japan and South Korea.
Vinod also suggested that portable genome sequencers be placed at airports and key border crossings to make detection and contract tracing possible. In addition, travellers should be put into temporary quarantine while awaiting results of the genomic sequencing.
On the other hand, he suggested that genomic sampling should be done on Covid-19 patients who were brought in dead to hospitals.
Vinod also mentioned that the sampling rate in Malaysia was among the lowest in the region, despite Malaysia having a Covid-19 positivity rate of 15%, which is 3 times higher than the WHO recommendation.
He then said the officials had made a mistake by carrying out clinical studies of the Covid-19 vaccines, although studies overseas had already proven the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines. This had led to a 3-month delay in in the sampling test.
During the Parliament hearing in July, the Dewan Rakyat heard the country’s genomic sequencing capacity was at 0.17%, a far cry from Singapore (6%), Cambodia (0.82 per cent). Thailand (0.43%) and Vietnam (0.31%).
Since then, the health ministry has pledged to carry out genomic sampling on 3,000 samples starting August through a consortium at a cost of RM3 million.
What is Mu-variant?
Mu, also known as B. 1.621, was first found in Colombia in back in January 2021.
CNBC reported that the variant contains genetic mutations that indicate natural immunity, and the current vaccines or monoclonal antibody treatments may not work as well against it as they do against the original ancestral virus.
However, further study is required to confirm whether it will prove to be more contagious, more deadly or more resistant to current vaccines and treatments.
Nonetheless, WHO has categorised the variants of concern to prioritise global monitoring and research, with the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta types previously added to the list.