A virologist has called for a detailed study to be made of Covid-19 variants in Malaysia, given the threat of the deadly new Mu variant which is said to be resistant to vaccines.
The Mu variant was declared as the fifth variant of interest last week by the World Health Organization after it was detected in 39 countries.
The virologist, Monash University lecturer Vinod Balasubramaniam, said studies on the new variant were ongoing but Malaysia should be vigilant as the variant could make its way here at any time.
Recent cases in Japan and South Korea show that the variant is near. “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.
Vinod said genomic sequencing and strict quarantine of overseas travellers were key to stopping the new variant from entering the country.
He suggested that portable genome sequencers be placed at airports and key border crossings for detection of possible cases. Travellers should be put into temporary quarantine while awaiting results of the genomic sequencing.
He said genomic sampling should be done on Covid-19 patients brought dead to hospitals.
Vinod said the sampling rate in Malaysia was among the lowest in the region, despite a Covid-19 positivity rate of 15%, three times higher than the WHO recommendation.
He said officials had made a mistake by carrying out clinical studies of vaccines, causing a three-month delay, although studies overseas had already proven the efficacy of vaccines.
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%).
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.