The Malaysian Health Ministry is now closely monitoring a new Covid-19 strain that was discovered in the UK that is said to be responsible for the faster spread of the coronavirus in London and the southeast of the United Kingdom.
According to NST, unconfirmed reports and early analysis suggests the mutation in the coronavirus, known as N501Y, allows it to spread 70 per cent faster than previous strains of the virus.
“I’m not sure what the mutation in the UK is, but I think it is the spike protein mutation. We are (monitoring the development in relation) to the new strain of the virus,” Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told NST.
On 19 December, British scientists came to an early conclusion that the coronavirus mutated to change the structure of the so-called “spike protein” on its surface, therefore increasing the protein’s affinity to bind human cells, making the virus more infectious.
Epidemiologist Datuk Dr Awang Bulgilba Awang Mahmud agreed with Dr Hisham that it could be the mutation of the virus’ spike protein. He said the new mutation was not the same as the potent D614G strain that was first detected at the Sivagangga cluster back 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 human cells,” he said.
While the strain has been reported to be more infectious, there is still not much information on the new variant. Dr Awang Bligilba also said that there was no scientific data to suggest that the new strain would worsen the pandemic or that vaccines no longer work.
If the mutations cause significant changes to the virus then there will be a problem. “Over time, Covid-19 vaccines may need to be modified in response to the mutation in the virus,” he added.
According to experts, the SOPs in place in Malaysia are sufficient, but it is important for the government to be vigilant of those coming from the UK.