Unimas says seven cases of South African Variant detected in Kuching

Prof David Perera

KUCHING: Seven cases of the South African Variant of Concern (VOC), B.1.351 have been detected in Kuching district.

The earliest case was tested positive by rT-PCR on April 26 and the most recent case tested positive on May 6, said the Institute of Health and Community Medicine (IHCM), Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).

In its report on the SARS-COV-2 genomic surveillance in the state, IHCM disclosed that it has also detected additional cases of the P3 VUI in Samarahan and Sibu.

“Additionally, we have detected a B.1.530 variant that appears to be dominant in Miri but also seen in Kuching.

“Finally, our data also shows that the B.1.466.2 ‘Pasai’ variant continues to circulate throughout the state,” it said IHCM director Prof Dr David Perera in a statement on SARS-COV-2 genomic surveillance in Sarawak today.

Dr Perera said to date, the IHCM laboratory has completed genomic sequencing of over 600 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.

He said notably, the B.1.466.2 variant was related to the ‘Pasai’ cluster in Sarawak and this variant shared a mutation with the UK B.1.1.7 variant at position 681 of the SARS-COV-2 Spike protein that was associated with increased transmissibility.

IHCM had also reported the detection of a ‘Variant of Interest (VOI), the B. or P3 variant in the Kuching and Samarahan districts.

This variant, according to Dr Perera was first reported in the Philippines in March this year and was recently identified in import cases to the UK.

He said this P3 variant was characterised by a double mutation; the E484K mutation shared with the B.1.351 South African variant and the N501Y mutation shared with the B.1.1.7 UK variant.

These mutations have been associated with immune escape from both vaccine-induced and natural infection protection, and greater transmissibility, he added.

With these new findings of SARS-COV-2 variants of concern/interest circulating in Sarawak, Dr Perera said IHCM strongly emphasised 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 the people should give their full cooperation to ensure the state could achieve herd immunity through the vaccination programme.