Ministry on alert over new variants

PUTRAJAYA: As Malaysia braces itself for a possible fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Health Ministry is now also on alert after the discovery of new variants of the virus in the country.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said from genome sequencing conducted by the Institute for Medical Research (IMR), at least 22 samples were found to contain variants originating from Britain, Nigeria and South Africa since February.

The three variants, which the ministry has categorised as “variants of concern” (VOC), are those that are said to be more contagious than usual – based on studies conducted worldwide.

“As of April 14, the IMR has conducted analysis on 273 whole genome sequences of the Covid-19 virus taken from clinical samples.

“About 145 genome sequences were conducted this year.

“Of that total, 22 cases (15.2%) were found to be of the VOC type, ” said Dr Noor Hisham in his daily Covid-19 statement.

The first VOC to be detected in Malaysia were the B.1.1.7 variant from Britain, which were found on Feb 3, following tests conducted on individuals arriving in the country.

Dr Noor Hisham said the ministry then discovered more cases at international entry points – with two cases of the B.1525 variant from Nigeria detected on March 5.

On March 18, the South African B.1.351 variant was found in samples taken from two infected employees of a company that is based at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“To date, a total of 17 locally transmitted positive cases have been identified to be infected with the South African variant B.1.351.

“Phylogenetic analysis and geographical correlations indicate that the cases are likely to have come from the same source of infection, ” said Dr Noor Hisham.

The cases which are said to have contained the South African variant were infections found to have links to the Jalan Lima, Kebun Baru and Teknologi Emas clusters in Selangor.

Dr Noor Hisham said most of the other samples tested were found to contain the B.1.524 variant – which is the most dominant lineage throughout the third wave.

“The third wave that started in Sabah after the Benteng LD cluster involves variants that contain the D614G and A701V mutations.

“The most dominant lineage during the third wave is the B.1.524, which is found in the majority of samples tested, ” said Dr Noor Hisham.

He said while the ministry continues to take extra steps to prevent the spread of new variants locally, the onus is on the public to stay vigilant and to practise Covid-19 preventive measures at all times.

“I have been giving my advice to the public daily. It is important for everyone to continue complying with all Covid-19 standard operating procedures and health advice that we keep stressing, ” said Dr Noor Hisham.

Yesterday, Malaysia saw a continuous rise in infections with 1,889 new cases – up from 1,767 the day before.

There were also eight new Covid-19 deaths while another 1,485 patients were discharged.

Selangor recorded the most number of new cases with 517 infections (27.4%) followed by Sarawak with 489 cases (25.9%) and Kelantan with 226 cases (12%).

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