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New Contagious Covid-19 Strain In UK: How Worried Should Malaysia Be?

New Contagious Covid-19 Strain In UK: How Worried Should Malaysia Be?

It’s more contagious, but doesn’t seem to cause more severe illnesses.

Tasneem Nazari

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A new Covid-19 virus strain was recently identified in the United Kingdom. This discovery might lead Malaysians to wonder what this means for us, and if we should be concerned.

The variant, dubbed B.1.1.7 or VUI-202012/01 (for the first “variant under investigation” in December 2020), first came to light in late November when the government agency Public Health England (PHE) was investigating why infection rates in Kent failed to decrease despite national restrictions.

Then, a cluster linked to the variant was discovered to be spreading rapidly into London and Essex, though the new strain was predominantly found in the areas South and East of England.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was quickly notified.

On 18 December, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced stricter lockdown measures to contain the strain before requesting citizens to cancel Christmas plans and stay home to contain the further spread of the virus.

B.1.1.7 Covid-19 strain is more contagious

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Viruses mutate all the time, it is a normal natural occurrence that happens as the virus replicates and spreads.

For B.1.1.7, mutations were found in the spike protein, which allows the virus to spread more easily between people. In fact, this variant appears to be spreading faster than other existing strains of the virus.

On 13 December, 1,108 cases were reported to involve this variant. In London, 62% of cases were identified to involve the variant in the week of 9 December, compared to just 28% of cases three weeks earlier.

Labs in the UK have since been issued guidance to ensure that PCR tests can detect the variant.

However, it likely won’t affect the production of vaccines nor cause severe illness

(Credit: Unsplash)

So far, there has been no indication that this new strain of the virus is likely to result in more severe Covid-19 symptoms or higher mortality.

Furthermore, health experts have said that it is highly unlikely that the variant won’t respond to the vaccines currently being developed.

As we develop vaccines, we know that the virus is a moving target, so that is built into the design.

Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas via Healthline

Malaysia continues to allow returnees from the UK to enter the country

Health Director-General of Malaysia, Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah (Credit: Malay Mail)

On Monday (21 December) Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said Malaysia has decided to continue allowing returnees from the UK to enter Malaysia, with assurances that quarantine orders are still mandatory for all incoming travellers.

Commenting on the variant, he said the Health Ministry is watching the developments of this new virus strain very closely.

We’re watching this situation closely. For now, all those returning from the UK must be tested as usual and they will be required to undergo the 10-day quarantine period. Even if they’ve done the test and it’s negative, they must still do the 10 days (quarantine).

Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, Health Director-General of Malaysia

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry tweeted yesterday (22 December) that international students from all countries except for the UK were allowed to return to campus for in-person learning starting 1 January 2021.

According to New Straits Times, Epidemiologist Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud explained that the new mutation was not the same as the D614G variant first detected in the Sivagangga cluster in Malaysia in August.

This variant has been named the VUI-202012/01 and there are a set of 17 changes or mutations. One of the most significant is an N501Y mutation in the spike protein that the virus uses to bind to human cells.

Datuk Dr Awang Bulgiba Awang Mahmud, Epidemiologist via New Straits Times

Continued vigilance is important

Wearing a mask, washing your hands, and physically distancing is still the best preventative measure against Covid-19. (Credit: Unsplash)

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, it’s important to remain vigilant, no matter where you are.

As we are still learning about the type of protection vaccines offer and how long immunity will last, there is still potential for anyone to catch or transmit the infection.

Therefore, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and physically distancing is still the best preventative measure in protecting yourself and others from this life-threatening virus.

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