April 17, 2021


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South African Covid-19 variant B.1351 found in Malaysia in March

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Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah speaks during his daily press conference on Covid-19 in Putrajaya February 9, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah speaks during his daily press conference on Covid-19 in Putrajaya February 9, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 — Another highly contagious variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus has been detected by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in the country since last month.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah revealed this today, saying nine cases of the South African variant were traced to the Jalan Lima Cluster.

The infection that began among the employees in a company operating out of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang then spread to residents in the Kuala Langat district.

“However, the mode of transmission or infection of variant B.1.351 to such case workers is difficult to identify and confirm. One case was from Kebun Baru Cluster and one other case was a family member of a positive Covid-19 case living in the same house.

“Following the first discovery of variant B.1.351, more genome sequence tests were conducted using Covid-19 positive samples from geographical locations including Kuala Langat district and Sepang district.

“The results of the tests conducted showed that there were five more cases detected from this locality that had been infected with the variant

“As of March 31, 2020, a total of nine Covid-19 positive cases have been identified infected with South African variant B.1.351 of local infection in Malaysia. To date, phylogenetic analysis as well as geographical correlations indicate the probability of such cases being from the same source of infection,” he said in a statement today.

The discovery of the South African variant B.1.351 was first reported globally in December 2020 in two countries namely South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Since early 2021, the existence of such variants has also been reported to have spread to other countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia and South Korea.

The South African variant carries a mutation, called N501Y, that appears to make it more contagious or easy to spread.

However, Dr Noor Hisham said the South African variant in Malaysia does not have the H69_V70del mutation that has been detected in the UK variant known as B.1.1.7.

He said that the Kuala Langat District Health Office, together with the Sepang District Health Office as well as the Institute of Medical Research will continue to perform viral genome sequencing from clinical samples to monitor the presence of this variant as well as other variants.

“From early January 2021 to the end of March 2021, a total of 117 full genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 were obtained for various Covid-19 mutations.

“Meanwhile, for the year 2020, a total of 144 genome sequences have been uploaded in the database system on the GISAID site,” he said.

International media have reported that there is no evidence so far that the South Africa variant causes more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected. As with the original version, the risk is highest for people who are elderly or have significant underlying health conditions.

However, there are concerns it can spread more readily and vaccines may not work quite as well against it.

Early reports from the vaccine manufacturers as well as multiple countries however denies this, saying the vaccine has proven its effectiveness in preventing the strain to reinfect those who had completed the dosage.

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