UK variant of Covid-19 detected in M’sia

KUALA LUMPUR – A case of COVID-19 variant dubbed ‘UK B.1.1.7’ has been detected in Malaysia today involving a traveller with a history of travel to the United Kingdom last month.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, in a posting on his Facebook page, said that the traveller was found positive for COVID-19 on Dec 28 and had been isolated for further treatment.

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“Since October 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been monitoring all travellers from countries that have reported cases of UK B.1.1.7 variant mutations, including from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Singapore, Turkey, the Philippines and India,” he said.

Dr Noor Hisham said so far no contagion in the country had been detected in relation to the UK B.1.1.7 mutation virus.

A total of 968 samples have been tested since October 2020, and genome sequencing to detect this type of UK B.1.1.7 mutation was performed on 24 samples, he said.

He said the MOH through the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) and the National Crisis Preparedness and Emergency Response Centre (CPRC) would constantly monitor the progress of this UK B.1.1.7 mutation and would inform the public from time to time.

Dr Noor Hisham said although the UK B.1.1.7 mutation did not cause severe symptoms but it could spread easily and quickly.

He said the public was advised to always practice personal hygiene by washing their hands regularly, wearing face masks, especially in public places, and maintaining physical distancing at all times.

Another strain detected

Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) meanwhile on Sunday said it had detected a new variant of the coronavirus in four travelers arriving from Brazil.

The newly-discovered mutant strain of Covid-19 was found to share some of the mutations in common with those of concern for increased infectivity, the institute said, referring to highly infectious strains recently discovered in the U.K. and South Africa.

However, at this time any information about the new variant is limited to its genetic make-up, the NIID said. The institute added it is difficult to immediately determine how infectious the new strain is and the effectiveness of vaccines against it.

The World Health Organization has been contacted by CNBC to confirm whether it has been informed about the new mutant strain of the virus. The United Nations health agency was not immediately available to respond on Monday morning.

Japan’s identification of a new variant of the virus comes as countries scramble to contain two other contagious variants that have emerged in the U.K. and South Africa.
Public health experts have expressed concern the new strains could pose a threat to inoculation efforts.

To be sure, while the variants discovered in Britain and South Africa spread more easily, there is no clear evidence of the mutated viruses being associated with more severe disease outcomes. But being more transmissible means more people can get infected, and this could mean more serious infections and more fatalities.

In recent weeks, optimism about the mass rollout of Covid vaccines appears to have been tempered by the resurgent rate of virus spread worldwide.