'10 times more infectious' coronavirus: Singapore experts dispute Malaysia's claim

Experts in Singapore say the strain, which is already found in Singapore, will have no impact on vaccine development.
PHOTO: Reuters

SINGAPORE - Experts in Singapore say there is no basis for Malaysia's claim that it has found a strain of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 that is 10 times more infectious.

They also say this strain - D614G - which is already found in Singapore, will have no impact on vaccine development.

Malaysia's director-general of health, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, had posted on his Facebook page on Sunday (Aug 16) that this mutation, which he said had been "found by scientists in July 2020" and now identified in three patients in Malaysia, is "10 times easier to infect other individuals".

He added that vaccines being developed may be ineffective against this mutation.

He attributed the spread of two recent clusters to this mutation, which was first sequenced in Malaysia last month.

But Professor Wang Linfa, director of the Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School, told The Straits Times that there is "no real scientific data to make the claim that D614G is more transmissible, let alone the 10-fold claim".

His programme deputy, Professor Ooi Eng Eong, said: "This mutation would certainly not impact vaccine efficacy since vaccines would generate antibodies that bind to many different parts of the virus spike protein and not just be limited to the site of mutation."

Associate Professor Hsu Liyang, an infectious diseases specialist at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said this mutation has been circulating here since February.

Singapore sequences a sampling of the virus from patients, and has found more than 100 with this mutation between February and July.

Since only a fraction of virus samples are sequenced, Prof Hsu said it would likely mean that thousands of infections here are due to the D614G mutation.

In June, an article in the highly prestigious Cell journal said the D614G variant was rapidly becoming dominant in the world.

Prof Wang said this variant is genetically more fit, but that does not mean it is more easily spread or causes more severe illness

Dr Asok Kurup, who chairs the Academy of Medicine's Chapter of Infectious Disease Physicians, said there has been no clinical impact from this mutation.

But he added that should it prove more infectious, then current measures such as masking and social distancing become even more important.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.