New strain poses threat to local transmissions

Commuters wear masks on their way to work at a station in Tokyo after a spike of coronavirus infections. Japanese have long worn masks during the flu season.
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This is a round-up of COVID-19 related matters in Malaysia and globally from Aug 22 up to 7.30 pm today. In Malaysia, case numbers have exceeded 9,000 and globally, the virus has infected more than 24 million people and caused more than 800,000 deaths. More than 200 countries and territories are affected by the pandemic.

KUALA LUMPUR – New cases reported this week were mostly in single-digit figures but the possibility that the new D614G virus strain may have led to infections reported under the Tawar cluster is a cause for concern.

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Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told a media briefing yesterday that there is a big possibility that the Tawar cluster and Sivagangga PUI (persons under investigation) cluster may have originated from the same source. Both clusters have their origins in Kedah.

“Four samples taken from the Tawar cluster virus were compared with three from the Sivagangga cluster and (genomic sequencing) results showed that all seven viruses were from the same clade. However, investigations are still being carried out,” he said, adding that the Tawar cluster has now spread to the third generation.

Imported cases, meanwhile, must also be monitored closely to prevent transmissions. As of Aug 27, out of the 106,793 individuals who arrived in Malaysia, a total of 904 COVID-19 cases were detected (0.85 percent positivity rate).

The highest number of cases comprised Individuals arriving from Indonesia (295), followed by Egypt (93) and Singapore (70).

Dr Noor Hisham said in a media statement today that Malaysia will continue to carry out stringent public health activities at all international entry points to stem transmission of COVID-19 from overseas.

Over the 24-hour period up to noon today, 10 new cases were recorded, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 9,306 and active cases 151.

Today’s new infections comprised eight imported cases and two local transmissions. Seven of the imported cases were from India and one from the Philippines. The two local transmissions involved a Malaysian citizen in Kedah and one non-citizen at the Bukit Jalil Immigration Detention Depot.

Thirty-six patients were discharged today, bringing the total number of recoveries to 9,030 (97.03 percent of total cases). Eight patients are warded in the intensive care unit with six needing respiratory aid. Malaysia’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 125 (1.34 percent of total cases).

Biggest active cluster

With 73 cases reported as of Wednesday, the Tawar cluster has overtaken the Sivagangga cluster which recorded 45 cases.

Earlier, the Ministry of Health had detected the D614G strain in three cases from the Sivagangga cluster and one case from the Bukit Tiram cluster involving a Filipino.

Hong Kong-based daily The South China Morning Post had reported that only two countries in Asia – Malaysia and the Philippines – have so far detected the D614G strain.

This particular mutated virus is said to have originated from Europe and has become a super spreader in Pakistan and India.

The Tawar cluster’s index case, detected on Aug 12, is a Malaysian male who tested positive for COVID-19 at a private hospital in Sungai Petani, Kedah, after experiencing symptoms.

Out of the cluster’s 73 cases, six are receiving treatment in the intensive care unit. The cluster has not reported any death.

The Tawar cluster has spread to four districts in Kedah with Kuala Muda recording the highest number of cases at 26, followed by Baling (20), Kulim (15) and Sik (one). This cluster is also responsible for six cases in Timur Laut, four cases in Barat Daya and one case in Seberang Prai Utara in Penang.

On the Rt or R naught (R0) value, which refers to the infectivity of a virus at the beginning of an outbreak in a community, Dr Noor Hisham said the highest R0 in Malaysia was recorded on July 22, that is 1.37, and the lowest 0.58 on Aug 4. (Prior to the enforcement of the Movement Control Order on March 18, the R0 was 3.55.)

The emergence of new clusters including the Tawar cluster after Aug 4 saw the R0 rising to 0.74 on Aug 26.

According to Dr Noor Hisham, an R0 value of less than one, if maintained continuously, will help to break the chain of COVID-19 infections in Malaysia.

Administrative EMCO

Commenting on the enforcement of administrative Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) in Aman Jaya in Sungai Petani effective midnight (today), Dr Noor Hisham said it was to facilitate public health screening activities involving the local community.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob told a media briefing yesterday that the EMCO will cover three zones in Aman Jaya (Kenanga, Melur and Mawar) involving 22,360 households (265 houses).

The households have been placed under the Home Surveillance Order due to contact with seven COVID-19 positive cases from the Tawar cluster.

WHO and global situation

On Monday (Aug 24), the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that 172 nations are engaged in discussions to participate in COVAX, a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines once they are developed and authorised for use.

At a media briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said COVAX currently has the world’s largest and most diverse COVID-19 vaccine portfolio, including nine candidate vaccines and a further nine under evaluation.

He said the supervised distribution of vaccines worldwide will safeguard the interests of all nations, including those that have signed their own agreements with vaccine developers.

He said new research outlines that global competition for vaccine doses could lead to prices spiking exponentially in comparison to a collaborative effort such as the COVAX facility.

It would also lead to a prolonged pandemic as only a small number of countries would get most of the supply.

“COVAX will ensure that low-, middle- and high-income countries all receive the vaccine in a timely way as soon as there is supply of a safe and effective vaccine,” he added.

Global Covid-19 statistics

According to CoronaTracker (which cites figures from various agencies including WHO), the total number of COVID-19 cases worldwide at the time of writing this article stood at 24,650,487 (22,882,693 cases at the same time last Friday) and 836,049 deaths (797,428 last Friday). The total number of recoveries stood at 17,092,747.

The United States continues to head the list of badly-hit nations with 6,048,317 cases (5,746,534 cases last Friday) and 184,803 deaths (177,426 last week).

Brazil is on the second spot with 3,764,493 cases and 118,726 fatalities. India is on the third spot with 3,392,295 cases and 61,725 deaths. Russia is fourth with 980,405 cases and 16,914 deaths.

Another 26 countries have recorded cases exceeding 100,000, namely:

Peru 621,997 cases (28,277 deaths), South Africa 618,286 (13,628), Colombia 582,022 (18,468), Mexico 579,914 (62,594), Spain 451,792 (28,996), Chile 404,102 (11,072), Argentina 380,292 (8,050), Iran 367,796 (21,137), United Kingdom 330,368 (41,477), Saudi Arabia 311,855 (3,785), Bangladesh 304,583 (4,127), Pakistan 295,053 (6,283), Italy 263,949 (35,463), Turkey 263,998 (6,209), France 259,698 (30,576), Germany 240,565 (9,359), Iraq 219,435 (6,740), Philippines 209,544 (3,325), Indonesia 165,887 ( 7,169), Canada 126,848 (9,102), Qatar 117,988 (195), Bolivia 113,129 (4,791), Ukraine 114,497 (2,451), Equador 111,219 (6,471), Israel 110,403 (884) and Kazakhstan 105,408 (1,523).

China, where the outbreak was first reported at end-December 2019, is now on the 35th spot with 85,004 cases while its death toll remains at 4,634.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Indonesia have joined the countries with more than 100,000 cases. Next is Singapore with 56,666 cases while its death tally remains at 27, followed by Thailand with 3,410 cases and 58 deaths.

Vietnam’s COVID-19 cases have risen to 1,034 and deaths 30. Myanmar now has 586 cases while its death toll remains at six. Cambodia’s cases remain at 273 with no deaths reported. Brunei’s tally remains at 141 cases and two deaths while Laos has reported 22 cases with no fatalities.

Covid-19 background

According to the WHO website, its China country office was informed of cases of pneumonia that were detected in Wuhan on Dec 31, 2019. On Jan 7, the Chinese authorities confirmed that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted from human to human.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-COV).

A study of the virus’ genetic sequence suggested similarities to that seen in snakes and bats. China health officials identified the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan as the source of the transmission of the coronavirus.

On Feb 11, WHO announced the official name of the virus, COVID-19, which is an acronym for coronavirus 2019 – CO stands for corona, VI for virus and D for disease.

On Jan 30, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak as a global emergency. By then, it had spread to 18 countries and caused 170 deaths. On March 11, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO.

WHO has described the COVID-19 outbreak as 10 times more dangerous than the A H1N1 Influenza, also known as Swine Flu.

Swine Flu, which occurred between January 2009 and August 2010, infected more than 1.6 million people and caused 18,449 fatalities.

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the global economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. — BERNAMA

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