Whilst more research is needed to understand the extent to which the Mu variant can escape the affects of vaccines, it is just the fifth variant of COVID-19 to be categorised as a variant of interest by the WHO. There are a further four variants of concern, but more research is needed to determine whether the Mu strain will be labelled as such. Although early reports have shown its transmission rate does not exceed that of the Delta variant – currently the UK’s dominant strain – Mu has shown possible signs of resistance to vaccines.
Since it was first detected in January 2021, there have been ‘sporadic reports’ of increasing cases and outbreaks in South America and now Europe, the WHO said.
The amount of mutations that suggest Mu could decrease the efficacy of vaccines has lead to increased concern surrounding world leaders. The WHO’s preliminary data has shown a reduced effectiveness of vaccines “similar to that seen for the beta variant”, which has seen just over 1,000 cases in the UK and is present in over 50 countries worldwide.
There have been 55 reported cases of the Mu variant in England so far, but nowhere else in the UK, with infections rising slowly but steadily.
With Mu spreading from South America to 39 countries worldwide, including a sharp rise in the US, The European Union has proposed a pause on all non-essential travel from the US.
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In the UK, since the 16 March 2020, it has not been possible for British nationals who have been in the country within the previous 14 days to enter the US, with strict restrictions at the US boarder.
Whilst the UK will not stop British travellers from departing to the US this summer, currently most will not be able to enter the US under their restrictions. In addition, the CDCP continues to advise US citizens against traveling to the UK in an attempt to stop the spread of new variants such as Mu.
There is widespread concern over the emergence of new virus mutations as global cases continue to rise again, with the highly transmissible Delta variant taking precedence in the UK, especially among unvaccinated children and young adults.
During their weekly coronavirus update, the WHO explained that: “Although the global prevalence of the Mu variant among sequenced cases has declined and is currently below 0.1 per cent, the prevalence in Colombia (39 percent) and Ecuador (13 percent) has consistently increased.
“Since its first identification in Colombia in January 2021, there have been a few sporadic reports of cases of the Mu variant and some larger outbreaks have been reported from other countries in South America and in Europe.”
They also stressed that the epidemiology of the Mu variant, particularly with the continued co-circulation of the Delta variant, will be closely monitored for changes.
All viruses mutate over time, including SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, and the majority of these mutations have little or no impact on the transmission rate of the virus as well as its resistance to vaccines.
However, as seen with the Alpha variant which was first detected in the UK and Delta variant emerging from India, certain mutations can affect the properties of COVID-19, including the link between cases and hospital admissions.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines give at least 90 per cent protection against hospitalisation from the Delta variant. However, protection from initial infection is between 60-70 per cent.
The Delta variant, one of the most transmissible strains, has caused widespread infection in countries such as Australia, that were before able to squash the spread of the virus through early lockdowns.
Like Mu, more research is needed to determine the malevolence of C.1.2 but experts believe that “this lineage has rapidly expanded and become dominant in three provinces, at the same time as there has been a rapid resurgence in infections.”
Public Health England (PHE) said in August 2021 that the C.1.2 mutation was in the company of ten strains being monitored.
The amount of cases is unknown, with the figures not being published. This suggests that infections in the UK are relatively small, and not of great concern as of yet.
However, with the relaxation of the global movement of travel, cases are slowly on the rise – opening the door for COVID-19 to continue to mutating, posing a risk to countries worldwide.