MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku



10 APRIL 2024

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Explained: The new Covid-19 variant, BF.7


The latest variant of Covid-19 has already been detected in Malaysia and a virologist advises the people to get the second booster shot if they haven’t already.

PETALING JAYA: Having kept its borders all but shut for three years, imposing a strict regime of lockdowns and relentless testing, China abruptly reversed course towards living with the virus on Dec 7, and a wave of infections erupted across the country.

The latest Covid-19 variant – a sub-variant of Omicron – named BF.7 is believed to be driving the surge in infections in China.

News of the sub-variant has prompted many countries, including Malaysia, to impose temperature checks on travellers entering the country.

FMT takes a closer look at whether the Omicron subvariant is a cause for concern.

What is BF.7? 

BF.7, short for BA., is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant BA.5 and was first detected globally in July 2022.

While the surge of cases in China is being attributed to BF.7, it did not cause a spike in other countries like the US, Denmark, Germany, France and India.

According to covSpectrum.org, a website dedicated to helping scientists investigate and identify Covid-19 variants, BF.7 was also detected in Malaysia in August and September this year in Selangor, Pahang and Melaka.

The symptoms are similar to those of other variants such as runny nose, cough and diarrhoea.

How worrying is it? 

Reports from China indicate the sub-variant has a very high transmission rate, R0 (basic reproduction rate) being more than 10. The average R0 of other Omicron variants is around five. The higher the number the more infectious it is.

However, Universiti Sains Malaysia virologist Dr Kumitaa Theva Das said the BF.7’s high R0 in China might be due to lower immunity levels in the country.

Kumitaa Theva Das.

“Based on current evidence, there is no indication of increased severity associated with BF.7 in comparison with other variants,” she told FMT.

Even the World Health Organization (WHO) did not place this Omicron sub-variant under monitoring.

Malaysia’s response 

Health minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa announced that all travellers arriving in Malaysia needed to undergo temperature checks for fever.

She also said all those with a history of travelling to China would, within 14 days of their arrival, be required to undergo an RTK-Antigen test, and samples would be sent for genome testing if they were found positive for Covid-19.

This also applies to those who have close contact with individuals who have travelled to China within the last 14 days or exhibit influenza-like illnesses (ILI) or severe acute respiratory infection (SARI).

The ministry will also run PCR tests on sewage samples from aircraft arriving from China, which will be sent for genome sequencing if they are found to be positive.

Kumitaa commended the health ministry, saying these measures and increased surveillance were timely and would enable early detection of cases from abroad.

Precautionary steps 

Citing a 2022 study from the US, Kumitaa said while BF.7 had immune-evasive characteristics, existing vaccines and boosters would still be able to improve immunity against it.

“As immunity wanes over time, those who have not received their second booster should do so now, especially those who fall within the high-risk group such as the elderly, those with comorbidities, and those who are immune-compromised,” she said.

Everyone should also continue to wear masks, maintain physical distance and good hygiene to avoid getting infected as well as test regularly to prevent transmission. - FMT

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