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Health Officials Fear Entry of New COVID-19 Variant

The likelihood of another COVID-19 variant entering Saint Lucia is real.

That is according to the National Epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health Dr. Michelle Francois, who earlier this week told reporters that the presence of the Mu variant was detected in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

This new variant has been described as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the Organization, the variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape.

“The new variant is a fairly recent variant. It was first identified in Colombia and is considered a variant of interest because there is a possibility it is possible to transmit more readily than the original virus. There is (also) a possibility that it may evade the vaccine,” Francois said.

The WHO is tracking the development of the variant which is the fifth variant of interest to be monitored by the Organization since March 2020.

“This Mu variant has not been proven to have a public health significance on a global level so all of these claims are currently being investigated by the WHO,” Francois stated.

She added that “Once this proves to be true it would be classified as a variant of concern. It has expanded to close to 40 countries at present so it is something that is being monitored at the international level and studies are currently underway to prove how transmissible it is and whether or not it is truly capable of evading the vaccine.”

The Associated Press recently reported that the Mu variant accounts for less than 1% of COVID-19 cases globally and said that in Colombia, it may be responsible for about 39% of cases. According to the Associated Press, most countries remain concerned about the highly contagious Delta variant as it is the dominant variant in almost all of the 174 countries where it’s been detected.

Francois urged individuals to get vaccinated as a result.

“What I want to point out also is that despite this new variant, WHO (is) still very much concerned about the Delta (variant). The advice is for persons to continue getting vaccinated as it has been proven to reduce severity of illness as well as deaths, while they continue to track these new variants of interest that keep emerging. That is something that is expected with all viruses; they try as much as possible to survive so there is a level of mutation to ensure their survival,” she explained.

If the Mu variant is actually discovered in Saint Lucia, the plan of action is the same; Francois stressed on the importance of following protocols to mitigate the virus.

“The same measures apply as with the previous variants: that we continue to wear our masks, we continue to social distance, wash hands, use hand sanitizer if you are unable to use soap and water as well as to get vaccinated because it has been proven to reduce both transmission and severity of the disease,” she said.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Sharon Belmar-George also spoke on the topic saying, “We need to take those measures as if we have all of the variants of concern on island.”

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