KUALA LUMPUR, April 1 (Reuters) – Malaysia has detected nine cases of a highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, a senior health official said on Thursday.
The variant, also known as B.1.351, was found among locally transmitted cases between January and March, Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.
Two of the cases involved workers from a firm based at Kuala Lumpur International airport, he said.
“However, it is difficult to determine or verify how the B.1.351 variant was spread or transmitted to those workers,” Noor Hisham said.
Further analyses indicated that all nine cases likely originated from the same source, he added.
Experts fear that the B.1.351 variant could be resistant to existing vaccines and treatment, though vaccine-maker Pfizer-BioNTech said on Thursday that its dose was effective against the strain.
Malaysia in February launched a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme, aiming to inoculate 80% of its 32 million people within a year.
The Southeast Asian country has detected more than 340,000 cases including 1,278 deaths.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
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