KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 26 — Malaysia has imposed a mandatory quarantine order on travellers returning from seven southern African countries effective tomorrow (November 27) after several countries reported the discovery of a new “heavily mutated” Covid-19 strain.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin today announced that Malaysian citizens and permanent residents returning to Malaysia from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, or with a 14-day travel history to those countries, will need to undergo compulsory quarantine for 14 days at a designated quarantine station, and not at home.
Samples will be taken from the returning travellers for genomic sequencing. Khairy said genomic surveillance conducted as of November 26 found no evidence of the new B.1.1.529 variant in Malaysia.
Malaysian citizens who have made plans to travel to the southern African countries listed will not be allowed to proceed with their travels, while foreigners with a travel history within the last 14 days to those southern African countries will be temporarily barred from entering Malaysia.
“The Ministry of Health (MOH) views the emergence of this new variant seriously and we will improve genomic surveillance, including on arriving individuals from countries that have reported cases of this new variant.
“Continuous genomic surveillance is conducted by a consortium which consists of the MOH, the Institute of Medical Research (IMR), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and the Ministry of Higher Education,” Khairy told reporters at a media conference today.
Several countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, and Israel, have reported cases of the B.1.1.529 variant, which experts fear is more contagious and may be able to evade immunity.
South African scientists reportedly attributed the rise of Covid-19 cases in the Gauteng region of South Africa to the variant, accounting for about 90 per cent of cases in just weeks. Daily new Covid-19 infections in South Africa reached 1,200 on Wednesday, up from 106 earlier in the month.
American epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, in a tweet, pointed out that the viral load of the two cases detected in Hong Kong was extremely high, with Ct values of 18 and 19, considering that they tested negative on previous PCR tests, warning that “vaccine evasion could be real with this variant”.
B.1.1.529 has 32 mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein alone, the part of the virus used by most vaccines to prime the immune system against Covid-19. That is about twice as many mutations as the Delta variant.
Many countries, including the United Kingdom, have moved swiftly to ban flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe, and placed these countries on a travel red list over the B.1.1.529 variant that is feared to be the worst Covid-19 variant yet.