South African virus strain detected


PUTRAJAYA: The highly-contagious B.1.351 Covid-19 variant from South Africa has been detected in at least nine cases in Malaysia, the Health Ministry said.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the variant was discovered from Covid-19 samples taken from cases around the Sepang and Kuala Langat districts in Selangor.

“It was first found in four local cases this month, and early investigations revealed that all four cases have geographical links.

“Two cases are from the Jalan Lima cluster, involving an employee of a company based at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). It is difficult to identify or confirm how the infection with the B.1.351 variant was transmitted.

“One case was traced to the Kebun Baru Cluster while another case involved the housemate of a Covid-19 patient, ” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said following the discovery of the variant in the four cases, the ministry conducted more genome sequence tests from samples taken around the Kuala Langat and Sepang district.

As a result, five more cases with the variant were detected from the surrounding areas.

“Four more cases were from the Kebun Baru cluster, while one was from the Jalan Lima cluster, ” said Dr Noor Hisham, who added that only the Kebun Baru cluster remains active, while the Jalan Lima cluster 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 that are still active, and all are being treated and isolated, ” he said.

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

The B.1.351 variant was first discovered in December 2020 in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Reports say the variant is more contagious than the original virus.

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

Dr Noor Hisham said the ministry’s Institute for Medical Research will actively conduct genome sequencing on Covid-19 samples to trace new variants.

“The ministry will continue to implement public health measures to prevent the incoming of new variants into the country, ” he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia recorded 1,178 new Covid-19 cases, taking the cumulative total to 346,678.

The daily total is a slight improvement from the 1,482 cases recorded on Wednesday.

There are six new Covid-19 fatalities, pushing Malaysia’s death toll up to 1,278.

Another 1,377 patients were discharged after treatment, bringing the total number of recoveries to 331,001, or 95.5% of all cases.

There are now 14,399 active cases nationwide.

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