South African Covid-19 Variant Hits Kuching: Unimas

Unimas’ Institute of Health & Community Medicine also says the Philippines’ P3 variant has been found in Kuching, Samarahan, and Sibu, while the local Pasai B.1.466.2 variant continues circulating through Sarawak during the fourth wave.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — The Covid-19 variant first detected in South Africa has reached Sarawak, with seven cases found in Kuching, said the Institute of Health & Community Medicine (IHCM).

IHCM, headed by Prof Dr David Perera at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), said its laboratory has completed genomic sequencing of over 600 samples and shared the data in the GISAID global SARS-CoV-2 sequence database.

In contrast, the Institute for Medical Research (IMR), under the federal Ministry of Health (MOH), said in the National Institutes of Health’s May 9 weekly Covid-19 report that it had conducted 370 genomic sequencing on 370 samples as of May 7.

“Today, we would like to report the detection of seven cases of the South African Variant of Concern (VOC), B.1.351, in the Kuching district,” Dr Perera said in a statement.

“The earliest case we sequenced was tested positive by RT-PCR on the 26th of April and the most recent case tested positive on the 6th of May.”

The B.1.351 variant first found in South Africa is believed to be more transmissible.

Dr Perera also highlighted IHCM’s previous detection of the P3 variant, first reported in the Philippines in March this year, in the Kuching and Samarahan districts of Sarawak.

“This P3 variant is characterised by a double mutation; the E484K mutation shared with the B.1.351 South African variant and the N501Y mutation shared with the B.1.1.7 UK variant.”

He explained that these mutations have been linked with escaping immunity from both natural infection and vaccines, as well as greater transmissibility of the virus. 

“We have also detected additional cases of the P3 VOI (variant of interest) in Samarahan and Sibu. Additionally, we have detected a B.1.530 variant that appears to be dominant in Miri but also seen in Kuching.”

The Unimas scientist said the B.1.466.2 variant — related to the Pasai cluster in Sarawak — shares a mutation with the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the United Kingdom and is linked with increased transmissibility of the virus.

The Pasai variant, he said, continues to circulate throughout Sarawak. The Pasai cluster was declared closed on April 13, after infecting 2,693 individuals across the state and causing 29 fatalities.

Dr Perera said IHCM’s coronavirus variant surveillance study had identified the B.1.470 and B.1.524 lineages as the circulating variants in the third wave of Sarawak’s epidemic from September to November last year, as well as the B.1.470, B.1.524 and the Pasai B.1.466.2 as the circulating variants in the fourth wave from last December.

Sarawak is one of the main epicentres in the new Covid-19 surge that the federal government has refused to recognise as the fourth wave. The country’s largest state has been reporting an average of 474 daily coronavirus infections in the past fortnight.

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