Jakarta. Indonesia announced last week that it had identified two new cases of the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, which was first detected in the UK late last year.
According to Health Ministry’s vaccination spokeswoman Siti Nadia Tarmizi, enhanced Covid testing, tracing, and treatment (3Ts) enabled the government to detect the new variant. In this regard, she specifically referred to the government’s efforts in improving the whole genome sequencing (WGS) of positive specimens as well as the lab’s capacity to detect new virus variants across the archipelago. “The finding [of the new virus variant] illustrates the ability and capacity of the Health Ministry’s Research and Development Agency in performing WGS,” Nadia wrote in a statement.
As a ribonucleic acid virus, the coronavirus naturally mutates to survive. “There has been no scientific evidence that shows the [new variant] can cause a more severe disease than the previous strain. Several researches abroad, however, found it is more infectious. The rapidity of its spread does not make it more severe, but [researchers] will continue to carry out further research,” Nadia said.
The spokesman also ensured the vaccine used in the ongoing rollout is still effective against the new virus mutation. “Researchers who studied the B.1.1.7 variant confirmed the inoculation’s effectiveness against the virus is still at an acceptable level. So far, it has not affected the vaccine’s performance.”
As the British variant is more contagious, Nadia urged people to comply with the health protocols and support the vaccine roll-out. “With the upcoming long weekend, we urge the public to refrain from going out. Case surges from family clusters usually follow after a long holiday,” she warned.
Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology chairman Amin Subandrio highlighted it takes time for a WGS analysis result to come out. “Detecting the B.1.1.7 variant can take up to more than one or two weeks,” Amin said.
“The cases arrived in Indonesia late January 2021. Afterwards, [both] went through PCR and the suspects had to undergo quarantine for 5 days. They later took another PCR test. A few days later, [the specimens] underwent a WGS analysis. The results were ready on March 1 and we immediately reported it. The WGS analysis process is not a routine check. Not all samples with positive test results were analyzed,” he added.
Amin noted no special treatment is needed for the mutation as it is natural for a virus to mutate. “We must speed up and ramp up testing and tracing, including the WGS analysis process."