No matter what, we cannot accept a new viral mutation without shuddering.

Like lightning, the public becomes quack epidemiologists, virologists and statisticians, posting their views even before the virus proliferates.

Meanwhile, when the Omicron variant moved freely from South Africa and arrived at our shores we could proudly say that our Health Ministry (MoH) was completely prepared to address the situation swiftly, quietly and effectively.

The Omicron variant could not mock our immigration controls and digital surveillance.

The results of our rapid tracing exercise were extremely reassuring at the first sound of the alarm.

The world was fascinated with our performance which was featured in CNN, Newsweek and other international news.

On Nov 19, a college student, who had travelled from South Africa to Malaysia via Singapore, tested positive for the Omicron variant at the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) between Malaysia and Singapore.

The fully vaccinated 19-year-old, who had no symptoms, was strictly quarantined for 10 days before being released on Nov 29 after testing negative.

The MySejahtera app’s contact tracing and on-ground investigation was immediately activated. Contact tracing was carried out and the tests came back negative.

Ever since the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the Omicron variant , Institute of Medical Research authorities began conducting PCR Genotyping Assay at all international points of entry. This was coupled with whole genome sequencing.

The MoH also back-tested all positive PCR tests from countries of interest back to Nov 11.

It is believed that Omicron has been in the community for some time. South Africa was the first to pick and announce it.

India and the Netherlands have accepted that the virus was already in the community much earlier.

Experts there should be thanked for their investment in sequencing and testing for Omicron.

The only issue was the rapid spread of the variant in South Africa because of the low vaccination rate among young adults.

High income countries have been accused of hoarding vaccines, resulting in the world’s failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner.

Only 3% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated, compared with more than 60% in high-income countries.

The emergence of Omicron is a warning that this pandemic is far from over and that rich nations should be doing more to combat the spread of the virus in other parts of the world instead of hoarding unused supplies.

By the end of the year, enough vaccines may be manufactured to vaccinate the whole world against Covid.

In the Covid war, the biggest issue seems to be the wearing of masks to minimise risks.

Unlike vaccination, face coverings can be a very visible indicator of how individuals react to the guidance on combating the virus.

Masks are, and always have been, the easiest and subtlest way to reduce the spread of the virus.

In this case, the world was shocked at the lack of preparedness in the UK which had relaxed its mask-wearing standard operating procedures.

On reflex, it imposed mandatory wearing of masks on Nov 29 upon hearing of the Omicron’s arrival at its airports.

In spite of that, there were maskless people still in London’s busy streets, football stadiums and restaurants.

Interestingly, Omicron is a 1963 sci-fi comedy directed by Italian filmmaker Ugo Gregoretti and a parody of a capitalist society centred on an alien scouting Earth in preparation for his species to conquer the planet.

Hopefully, the Omicron variant does not unfold into a real life horror film.

The variant was initially named B.1.1.529 from a specimen collected on Nov 9 and there are 32 variants of Covid to date already, with Omicron being the latest. The virus continues to mutate.

Around the world, that wave is still propagating. Over the weekend, a number of countries announced new cases, South Africa (77), UK (22), Australia (seven) and South Korea (five).

Just like any other country, Mo`H policymakers are faced with a dilemma.

If they choose to impose restrictions now, their policies have more chance of mitigating the harm from the variant. But such an approach would subject them to accusations of lacking solid evidence.

They may later find that the restrictive policies were unnecessary if the variant was not as bad as first feared.

In the meantime, everyone is at their wits end as they have started triggering travel bans, border closures and may restrict movement again.

Researchers cannot yet say whether it is more virulent or transmissible than the Delta variant or whether the immune response generated by vaccines can still neutralise it.

Most of the information is based on tests of petri dishes in labs.

What happens in our immune system is obviously much more complex.

We do not know whether this is the beginning, middle or end of a wave.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said no deaths have been reported in at least 25 countries, but further testing is required to determine whether it is more transmissible or lethal than other variants, including the Delta variant.

Malaysians have been judicious with mask wearing. Nonetheless, we cannot be complacent due to the momentary calm, and must at all times assume that the deadly variants and its mutations are in transit somewhere, and may arrive at our shores at any time.

There may be another crisis or not. It could even be a gateway between one portal to another. We do not know.

But we have faith that the MoH, with its present track record, will be able to deal with it.