More data needed on Delta Plus variant


PETALING JAYA: Should Malaysia be concerned by the emergence of the new Delta Plus variant? Health experts say that it is still too early to determine the exact risks the variant presents.

Universiti Putra Malaysia consultant clinical microbiologist Prof Dr Zamberi Sekawi said more evidence needs to be collected to assess the threat the variant might pose.

“We have to wait for more data before we can say that this mutation will land us in further trouble.

“It is normal and natural for viruses to undergo mutations, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is not to say that mutations will necessarily make the virus more virulent,” he said.

India recently declared the Delta Plus (or AY.1) variant – which was first identified in Europe and is a sublineage of the Delta variant – a “variant of concern” (VOC).

Its health ministry said that studies suggest that the new variant is more transmissible, binds more easily to lung cells, and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy.

(Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens.)

Universiti Malaya virologist Prof Dr Sazaly Abu Bakar also noted that mutations are a normal process that the virus undergoes.

“As long as the virus continues to replicate, mutations will accumulate. But most mutations will result in unfavourable characteristics for the virus.

“Also, even if the virus mutates to replicate faster, it does not necessarily make the disease deadlier.

“However, it is still important not to allow the virus to replicate in society too often,” he said.

Universiti Malaya professor of occupational and public health Prof Dr Victor Hoe said the Covid-19 virus will continue to mutate as long as the disease is prevalent in the community.

“There will be more variants coming in the future, and some of them will become VOC.

“Malaysia should be concerned with all VOC as they are believed to have increased risk in severity or transmissibility,” he said.

Dr Hoe said the variants may have contributed to the increase in the number of cases in the country, adding that the Beta (B.1.351) variant is currently the most dominant in the country.

One way, he said, to curb the spread is for better border control, especially as Malaysia’s long coastline makes it easier for people to enter the country.

“The important thing is to ensure all returnees or visitors are quarantined between 14 and 21 days,” he said.

With the new understanding that the virus can be transmitted through the air, Dr Hoe advised Malaysians to avoid activities that require them to remove masks, especially in an enclosed environment.

The Delta Plus variant is a sublineage of the Delta variant which was first detected in India, and this new variant contains the mutation K417N, believed to have immune evasion ability.

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