Malaysia sees first case of highly infectious variant spotted in India

People queueing to have their temperature taken before entering a Ramadan market in Kuala Lumpur last Friday. Malaysia's health chief has warned that hospitals around the Klang Valley, where the capital is located, are running out of beds for critica
People queueing to have their temperature taken before entering a Ramadan market in Kuala Lumpur last Friday. Malaysia's health chief has warned that hospitals around the Klang Valley, where the capital is located, are running out of beds for critical Covid-19 cases.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia has detected its first case of a highly infectious coronavirus variant first identified in India, Health Minister Adham Baba said yesterday, days after imposing a ban on flights from India. The variant, named B1617, was detected in an Indian national screened at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, he said.

The World Health Organisation has described it as a "variant of interest", suggesting it may have mutations that would make the virus more transmissible, cause more severe disease or evade vaccine immunity.

"We advise the public to remain calm... All public health efforts will continue in order to break the chain of infection and ensure public safety," Datuk Seri Adham said.

He did not say when the variant was detected.

Malaysia, which is facing a surge in Covid-19 cases, last Wednesday banned flights to and from India, and prohibited travellers from any Indian destination from entering the country to prevent the spread of the new variant.

India is battling a devastating second wave of the coronavirus that has overwhelmed hospitals, morgues and crematoriums.

Yesterday, Malaysia reported 3,418 new coronavirus cases, bringing its total number of infections to 415,012 cases, including more than 1,500 deaths.

Its health chief has warned that hospitals around the Klang Valley, where the capital Kuala Lumpur is located, are running out of beds for critical Covid-19 cases.

Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said one of the hospitals - Sungai Buloh Hospital - has seen more than 20 case referrals to the intensive care unit (ICU) daily in the past one week, adding that the hospital is almost running out of beds.

"Sixty-three ICU patients, with more than 25 critically ill patients to be reviewed in the general ward and emergency department, and more than 20 case referrals to ICU daily in the past one week in Sungai Buloh Hospital," he said in a Facebook post yesterday.

Tan Sri Noor Hisham added that Sungai Buloh Hospital, which is fully dedicated to treating Covid-19 cases, will be increasing its ICU and critical treatment bed capacity in phases. He noted that the public healthcare system is struggling to manage the load of critical Covid-19 cases, saying six dedicated hospitals have already hit the alert threshold, with between 70 per cent and 100 per cent of their ICU beds filled.

He said people need to strictly follow standard operating procedures to curb infections. "100 per cent compliance is crucial for the country to get back on its feet," he added.

Sources told The Star that the authorities are set to announce a two-week partial shutdown soon in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and Sarawak as new cases continue to surge. However, Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob told local media yesterday that the government has yet to decide on the matter.

REUTERS, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2021, with the headline 'Malaysia sees first case of highly infectious variant spotted in India'. Subscribe