Health Ministry: South African Covid-19 variant detected in Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: The Health Ministry has detected the South Africa B.1.351 Covid-19 variant in several cases in the country.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the variant was found in four cases this month linked to the Jalan Lima cluster and the Kebun Baru cluster.

"Early investigations revealed that all four cases have geographical links.

"Two cases are believed to be from the Jalan Lima cluster, involving an employee of a based at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

"However, it is difficult to identify or confirm how the infection with the B.1.351 variant was transmitted.

"One case is traced to the Kebun Baru cluster while another case involved the housemate of a Covid-19 patient," said Dr Noor Hisham.

He said following the discovery of the variant, the ministry conducted further genome sequencing tests on samples taken from the Kuala Langat and Sepang districts.

As a result, five more cases with the variant were detected. Four were from the Kebun Baru cluster, while one was from the Jalan Lima cluster," said Dr Noor Hisham.

The South African variant was first discovered in December 2020 in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Some reports claim the variant to be more contagious than the original virus.

There have also been reports that the several vaccines are found to be less effective against the variant.

Dr Noor Hisham said only the Kebun Baru cluster remained active, while the Jalan Lima cluster was declared ended on March 29.

"The Jalan Lima cluster had 57 confirmed cases with 447 individuals screened.

"The Kebun Baru cluster is still active and is expected to be declared as closed on April 25, if there are no additional cases.

"As of March 31, the cluster has 1,111 cases in total. There are 111 cases still active, and all are being treated and isolated," said Dr Noor Hisham.

The Kebun Baru cluster was detected on Dec 24 following a targeted screening on workers of a factory in the Kuala Langat district.

Dr Noor Hisham said the ministry – through the Kuala Langat and Sepang health district offices and the Institute for Medical Research – would actively conduct genome sequencing on Covid-19 samples.

"Since January 2021, the ministry has obtained a total of 117 genome sequences for various Covid-19 mutations.

"This is being done actively. The ministry will continue to be vigilant and implement various public health measures to prevent the incoming of new variants into the country.

"The public will update on the developments from time to time.

"Hopefully, all efforts to curb the spread of this new variant will help end the pandemic in the country," said Dr Noor Hisham.

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