KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — Malaysia reported its first case of the B.1.617.1 variant that experts believe to be a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, Berita Harian reported today.
Public health authorities detected the strain after analysing a case involving an Indian national screened at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Selangor, according to Minister of Health Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba.
“We had detected the first Indian variant (of the coronavirus), with multiple mutations known as B.1.617.1, through an Indian national when we screened him at the KLIA,” he was quoted as saying.
The B.1.617 variant contains two key mutations to the outer "spike" portion of the virus that attaches to human cells, according to senior Indian virologist Shahid Jameel.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the predominant lineage of B.1.617 was first identified in India last December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020.
The variant, also known as the “Indian variant”, is said to be highly contagious and is believed to have caused the sudden spike in infections worldwide.
BH reported Dr Adam as saying that the Indian variant was discovered alongside 30 other variants of concerns (VOC), including 27 of the B.1.351 variants from South Africa and three variants from the United Kingdom, the UK B.117.
“Unfortunately the IMR report confirmed the first case of VOC B.1.351 in Perak and Kelantan, involving clusters with 10 positive cases in the respective states,” he said.
“Through contact tracing efforts, we also recorded an additional seven cases of the B.1.351 variant and two cases of the UK B.1.1.7 in Selangor,” he added.
The discovery of another UK variant may also suggest there is already community transmission of the highly contagious strain, the paper reported.
Dr Adham said the case involved a foreign national in Sandakan, Sabah, without any international travel record.
“In fact this is the first case of the UK variant found among someone who has no outside travel record, suggesting local transmission,” he was quoted as saying.
There are currently 48 cases linked to the South African variant B.1.351, eight cases of the UK B.1.1.7 variant, one case of the India B.1.617 variant and two cases of the Nigeria B. 1.525 variant.