SINGAPORE: Amid an increase in cases in the community, the Ministry of Health (MOH) found that nearly a third of the 60 local cases of COVID-19 detected here last week were infected with worrisome variants or interesting.
These 29 local cases have viral variants that were first detected in the UK, South Africa, Brazil or India.
On Tuesday, May 4, the Department of Health’s director of medical services, Kenneth Mak, said seven cases in three local groups had one of the Indian variants – B16172. This includes the Tan Tock Seng Hospital cluster which had 40 cases on Tuesday.
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Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the COVID-19 task force, said that while there were unrelated cases of COVID-19 before, these have not developed in clusters.
“The new variant strains have higher attack rates, they are more infectious, they cause larger clusters than before,” he said. “Due to the new variants, (the cases) are more infectious and larger clusters are formed.”
Here’s what we know so far about the new variants:
VARIANTS DETECTED IN SINGAPORE
Wong noted at the task force press conference on Tuesday that the global COVID-19 situation has worsened, with new variants and new cases spreading from South Asia to South Asia. -Is.
The Department of Health has listed the COVID-19 variants detected in local or imported coronavirus cases in Singapore, and six different strains were also found among local cases last week.
Ten local cases have one of the two Indian subvariants. Seven were infected with the B16172 variant, while three were found with the B16171 variant.
Eight local cases over the past week have the B1351 variant which was first found in South Africa.
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The B117 or UK variant, which had been reported earlier, was detected in seven cases and there were three cases of the Brazilian P1 strain of SARS-CoV-2.
LOCAL CLUSTERS WITH VARIANTS
A number of COVID-19 clusters that have formed in Singapore are linked to the coronavirus variants.
“It should be noted that seven cases in three of our local clusters have the B16172 or Indian variant,” Professor Assoc Mak said Tuesday.
Five of these cases are in the cluster at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, one case is the immigration officer deployed to Changi Airport Terminal 1, and one case in the third group is a cleaner at a care facility. community in Tuas Sud.
Prof Mak added that these viruses were found to be “phylogenetically distinct”, suggesting that the clusters were not related.
“We haven’t completed phylogenetic testing of all the cases we have and we are likely to see more viral variants identified over time,” he said.
He added that the presence of these worrying viral variants confirms Singapore’s strategy to vaccinate all healthcare workers and prioritize vaccination of older Singaporeans.
“If we hadn’t done this, Tan Tock Seng’s cluster would have been considerably larger by then,” he said. “And the likelihood of this cluster getting out of hand is all the greater.”
WHAT IS THE INDIAN VARIANT?
The COVID-19 virus is constantly changing, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has a “watch list” of variants that pose a risk to public health.
The Indian viral variant B1617 has been classified as one of the seven “variants of interest” by the WHO. These are variants that are monitored because they have mutations that have epidemiological implications, such as transmissibility or disease severity.
The October sessions of the assistant professor at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said that as the virus spreads, the likelihood of new variants appearing increases and these will co-circulate until one gains a form advantage over the others.
“The majority of these variants will be neutral – they will not change the behavior of the virus,” he said.
Variants of concern, as opposed to variants of interest, must impact diagnostics, treatments or vaccines, be more contagious, or cause more serious disease. The British, South African and Brazilian variants have been listed as variants of concern by the WHO.
“While this work is in progress, these criteria have not been characterized for the majority of the rapidly evolving variants in India.”
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Scientists are still investigating whether the Indian variant causes an unexpected explosion of cases in India. The WHO said in its April 27 update that preliminary modeling suggests that it has “a higher growth rate than other variants circulating in India, suggesting potential increased transmissibility.”
“It is often difficult to determine whether the increase in the spread is due to a relaxation in societal measures, a decline in adherence or the virus itself,” said NUS professor of medicine Yong Loo Lin. School of Medicine Dale Fisher.
“I think most of us think all of these worrisome variants are more transmissible because they have become dominant quite quickly and there are mutations shared.”
KEY CHANGES IN THE INDIAN VARIANT
There are three sub-strains of the B1617 variant – B16171, B16172 and B16173, and they share some characteristic mutations.
The variant has been called the ‘strain of Bengal’ because it was first detected in this region of India. It has also been called a triple mutant – although the variant contains a total of 13 spike protein mutations, there are three that are of concern.
All three mutations have been detected in other variants circulating around the world and experts say they have evolved independently as the virus adapts to better infect humans.
One of the mutations, E484Q, which is very similar to the E484K mutation found in the South African and Brazilian variants, has been called an “escape mutation”. This is because it appears to partially “escape” immunity from infection or previous vaccines.
Another mutation, L452R, has been linked to large outbreaks in California and is estimated to be 20% more transmissible than previous waves of the virus. It is also believed that a third mutation, P681R, makes the virus more infectious.
Professor Fisher said the variants have an increased ability to bind: “It’s like a lock and a key where the virus spike protein is the key and the host cell’s receptors are the lock. a better key shape, so it takes less virus to cause disease. “
This means that precautions such as safe distancing, masks and hand hygiene must be “done very well,” he said.
“The measures still work, but the newer viruses are more efficient at infecting, so (they) will take advantage of the small holes you were able to avoid when the virus was the earlier strains.”
Asst Prof Sessions added that there were now numerous documented cases of people shedding the virus beyond the 14 day mark.
“In response to this and the increased presence of more highly transmissible strains currently circulating in neighboring countries, the stay-at-home notice has now been increased to 21 days to prevent the virus from leaking into the community,” he said. -he declares.
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