P.3 coronavirus variant detected in Sarawak

Prof David Perera

KUCHING: Sarawak Covid-19 Vaccine Advisory Group (SCoVAG) today reported the detection of a coronavirus ‘Variant of Interest’ (VOI) – the B. or P.3 variant.

“This variant was first reported in the Philippines in March this year and was recently identified in import cases in the United Kingdom (UK).

“The P.3 variant is characterised by two key mutations; the E484K mutation shared with the B.1.351 variant (South African variant) and the N501Y mutation shared with the B.1.1.7 variant (UK variant).

“These mutations have been associated with immune-escape from both vaccine-induced and natural infection protection and greater transmissibility,” said SCoVAG member Prof David Perera in a statement.

To date, the Institute of Health & Community Medicine (IHCM) laboratory at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas), which was tasked with tracking the SARS-COV-2 variants circulating in the state, has completed genomic sequencing of over 484 samples and the genomic sequence data is shared in the GISAID global SARS-COV-2 sequence database.

“We recently reported that our variant surveillance study has identified the B.1.470 and B.1.524 lineages as the circulating variants in the third wave (Sept – Nov, 2020) and lineages B.1.470, B.1.524 and B.1.466.2 as the circulating variants in the fourth wave (December 2020 onwards) in Sarawak.

“Notably, the B.1.466.2 variant is related to the Pasai  Cluster in Sarawak and this variant shares the P681R mutation with the UK B.1.1.7 variant that is associated with increased transmissibility,” said Prof Perera, who is also IHCM director.

He added that uncontrolled intense transmission of the virus would lead to emergence of more virus variants that could have an important impact on the vaccine efficacy and possibly severity of the disease.

“The continuous evolving of new SARS-COV-2 variants strongly emphasises the need for the public to continue adhering to standard operating procedures (SOPs) and guidelines, particularly mask-wearing, hand hygiene and physical distancing and the need to achieve herd-immunity through the vaccination programme.

“These efforts will help slow virus transmission and reduce the chance of future variants evolving in the community.”