Covid-19: At least two separate variants in Sarawak now

Image from The Conversation

By John Isaac

THERE are at least two separate variants of SARS-COV-2 circulating in Sarawak during this current fourth wave of the pandemic.

This has been shown by the investigations done by the Institute of Health and Community Medicine (IHCM), Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) pertaining to the virus genetic code from different infected individuals thus far.

IHCM Unimas director Prof Dr David Perera said one of the variants was a B1-like variant identified in Sibu associated with the Pasai Cluster while the other was a separate B.1.470 variant identified circulating in Kuching.

“We have laboratory-confirmed the presence of the B1-like variant associated with the Pasai Cluster, in longhouses and other locations that have seen the spread of this cluster,” he said, noting that to date, the Pasai Cluster was the largest cluster seen in the state.

“The B.1.470 variant detected in Kuching has also been identified in Sri Aman,” he said.

He said this in a statement shared on Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian’s Facebook page reported by New Sarawak Tribune.

Dr David said at present, there was no evidence to indicate that these variants would impact the efficacy and effectiveness of the approved vaccines being administered.

“However, the global appearance of variants such as the B1.351 (first identified in South Africa), B.1.1.7 (first identified in the United Kingdom), B. or P.1 (first identified in Brazil), B.1.526 (first identified in New York), and B.1.525 (first identified in Nigeria) has generated a lot of concern,” he said.

He said these variants had shown evidence of increased transmissibility and possibly reducing the effectiveness of currently approved vaccines.

“This situation strongly emphasises the need for the public to continue adhering to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and guidelines, particularly mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and physical distancing,” he said.

He pointed out these efforts would help to slow virus transmission and reduce the opportunity of future variants evolving in the community.

Now the IHCM is working with the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) and has been monitoring the SARS-COV-2 variants circulating in Sarawak as part of preparedness and response to the pandemic, he pointed out.

“The IHCM has also been designated as a SARS-COV-2 testing laboratory, contributing towards an increased testing capacity for Sarawak.

“Individual samples sent to the IHCM laboratory that tested positive for Covid-19 were further investigated by next-generation sequencing technology to both confirm the presence of the SARS-COV-2 virus and to determine the complete virus genetic code,” said Dr David.

In his post, Dr Sim congratulated and thanked Dr David and the team from Unimas for their contribution in many ways, adding that this was truly the best spirit of Sarawak’s solidarity and united efforts in the war against Covid-19.

“The findings are not just academic but clinically significant for the understanding of Covid-19 in various parts of Sarawak,” he said.