We are well into the third lockdown in Malaysia as our country attempts to face up to the Covid-19 challenge, especially with the influx of Variants of Concern (VOC) and Variants of Interest (VOI), as classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 31, 2021, which now uses Greek letters for variants.
Yet, knowing the variants is not enough. We need to connect their behaviour to trends within states, in an attempt to explain transmissibility or spikes in daily cases.
With this, we first look at the trend in Kelantan which showed generally stable daily numbers of 100 to 200 cases from April 10 to 19, after which cases rose, hitting highs of 662 (April 22) and 626 (May 23), before touching record highs of 754, 851 and 907 for three successive days on May 27, 28 and 29.
The health minister on May 2 announced the emergence of Variants of Concern (VOCs), in particular the South African variant of B.1.351, or now known as the Beta variant.
In fact, among the samples taken from April 24 till May 1, there were 10 such Beta variants from Kelantan, 10 from Perak and seven from Selangor. Three were of the UK variant, B.1.1.7 or the Alpha variant.
By May 8, 13 more VOC and VOI were detected, with the VOC still from the Alpha and Beta types, with the majority of eight from the Alpha (UK variant). However, by May 11, 15 more VOC were reported; 14 Beta (South African variant), and one Delta (Indian B.1.167.2 variant), originating from an Indian national.
Let’s pause and compare with trends within the states.. We find Kelantan affected the most with the Beta (South African variant), even with a documented case in Southern Thailand in Narathiwat, where a Thai national was infected with the same Beta variant.
Upon questioning, it was discovered his Malaysian wife, mother-in-law and son had travelled to see him across “natural borders” during the period between April 12 and May 4. This led to Thailand imposing strict movement restrictions from May 9 to 22, and reflects the concern Thai authorities have about the Beta variant, known for its high transmissibility.
Coming back to Malaysia — as cases shot up in Kelantan, there was also a rising trend for cases in Perak, which had experienced more than 100 or less daily cases unti May 12. Suddenly, there was a spike of up to 302 cases on May 13, rising to a new high of 382 on May 21, and even 405 on May 28.
What could have led to the sudden rise in cases? By May 18, the health director-general expressed concern over new VOC, whereby patients were asymptomatic and showed up negative on screening tests.
Then for samples collected between May 10 and 14, we saw four of the Beta variant and three of the Delta variant (Indian variant).
Could the spike in cases that we saw in late May nationwide be due to the proliferation of the Delta variant ?
Results announced on June 10 for sampling done from June 3 to 8 yielded 23 cases from VOC, with 19 Beta and four Delta variants.
The earlier count on June 9 showed 145 VOC sequenced so far, with 123 from Beta, 13 from Delta and nine from Alpha.
The Delta variant is attracting worldwide attention now, with the US declaring it “40 per cent more transmissible” than the formerly dominant Alpha variant.
What can we do here in Malaysia? We must still maintain our discipline. Variants may abound, but let us stick to the SOPs of masking, social distancing, sanitising, and cleaning upon returning home.
We must avoid meeting acquaintances over a meal, where masks come off for food to go in.
Sadly, such clusters have led to the rapid spread of the virus among friends and family, leading not only to positive cases, but also deaths.
We still can grab a foothold and create a beachhead in the fight against Covid-19. With the arsenal of vaccines at our disposal, a swift rollout can lead to herd immunity.
We can do this, Malaysia, we must win this war!
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.