Health DG: Strain of coronavirus that caused the outbreak in Malaysia still unknown

KUALA LUMPUR (April 16): Malaysia has yet to identify the particular strain of novel coronavirus that caused the spread of Covid-19 in the country, said Ministry of Health (MoH) director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham yesterday.

Noor Hisham said that since Malaysia is currently dealing with the second wave of the outbreak - whereby most of the infections are from imported cases through Malaysians returning from abroad, he did not rule out the possibility that all three variants of the coronavirus are present in the country.

"Imported cases are our citizens coming back from overseas not only from China but also from the UK, US, and etc. So maybe we have all three strains in the country. But we do not know until we isolate and culture the virus and then we tag the virus. Only then we can compare whether it is strain A, B or C," he told the media at the daily briefing on the status of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.

"We do not know (the strain of coronavirus) unless we culture our own virus. There is a whole viral genome that needs to be sequenced from patients and if we can do that, we can tag and identify the nature of the virus whether it is type A, B or C," he explained.

Nonetheless, Noor Hisham said that the Institute for Medical Research (IMR) is currently working to isolate and culture the virus that is present in Covid-19 cases in the country.

Once the virus is cultured, only then can the researchers compare and identify the specific strain of the coronavirus that cause the outbreak.

Viral culture refers to a laboratory test in which samples are placed with a cell type to determine which cell types that the virus being tested for is able to infect.

"This is a new virus. So we do not have the data and reports of the new virus that we can refer to unlike other viruses which we already have the identification and the reports," Noor Hisham.

Last week, South China Morning Post reported that geneticists from the UK and Germany have mapped the evolutionary path of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 and determined there are currently three strains of the virus that are spreading around the world.

In the study, the team labelled the three variants A, B and C.

According to the findings, Type A was closest to the coronavirus discovered in bats and although found in Wuhan – the central China city that was the epicentre of the initial outbreak – the variant was not the primary type there, the researchers said.

Type A was also found in Americans who had lived in Wuhan, and in other patients diagnosed in the US and Australia.

However, the report said that the most common variant found in Wuhan was type B, though this appeared not to have travelled much beyond East Asia before mutating, which the researchers said was probably due to some form of resistance to it outside that region.

Finally, type C was the variant found most often in Europe based on cases in France, Italy, Sweden and England. It had not been detected in any patients in mainland China, though it had been found in samples from Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea, the study said.

The researchers concluded that variant A was the root of the outbreak as it was most closely related to the virus found in bats and pangolins. Type B was derived from A, separated by two mutations, while type C was the “daughter” of variant B.

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