KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 – The Ministry of Health (MOH) expects the BA.2 Omicron subvariant — believed to be even more contagious than other Omicron sub-variants and the Delta variant — to become the dominant Covid-19 strain in Malaysia.
According to a breakdown of SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences submitted by Malaysian public institutions to virus genome database GISAID from January to March 17 this year, the proportion of BA.2 surged from 3.7 per cent of sequences in February to 27 per cent in the first 17 days of this month.
BA.1.1, an Omicron sub-lineage, remained the most common variant at 48.7 per cent of Covid-19 genomic sequences in February, before declining to 40 per cent March 1 to 17.
Delta variant’s share declined from 40.5 per cent in February to 28.6 per cent this month as of March 17.
The original BA.1 Omicron variant represented the lowest share of sequences at 7 per cent in February and 4.3 per cent this month.
Omicron, as a whole, replaced Delta as the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in Malaysia from last month at 59.5 per cent, compared to January when Delta comprised 51.5 per cent of sequences.
“We are concerned about the BA.2 sub-lineage because it may be more transmissible than other Omicron sub-lineages and the Delta variant,” Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement today.
“The same situation is observed in several countries like Denmark, India, and Nepal that report the BA.2 Omicron sub-lineage as the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in their countries.
“MOH expects that the BA.2 Omicron sub-lineage will most likely soon become the dominant variant in Malaysia.”
Dr Noor Hisham urged Malaysians to get their booster dose, citing a study published by Jingyou Yu et al last March 19 in the New England Journal of Medicine that found higher neutralising antibody levels in boosted individuals against the BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron sub-variants compared to people who only received primer vaccines.
According to the graphic shared by Dr Noor Hisham, Malaysia submitted just 1,244 genomic sequences to GISAID in January and 777 in February, before raising capacity to 1,674 sequences from March 1 to 17.
A total of 3,695 sequences were submitted from January to March 17, comprising 0.3 per cent of 1,169,351 Covid-19 cases reported in that period.
Malaysia Genome and Vaccine Institute (MGVI) director Ghows Azzam told CodeBlue recently that genome sequencing by the IMR-MOSTI-KPT-MGVI consortium of public institutions was a little slow in January and February because of a global shortage of consumables.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced last December that the government would increase whole genome sequencing capacity to 3,000 samples monthly by January, and subsequently raise capacity to 5,000 samples a month.