The English-language press is generally no fan of Philippines' pseudo-'Strongman' Rodrigo Duterte (half of the Americans who know who he is probably mistakenly believe him to be an autocrat due to the general tone of the coverage, although he was Democratically elected). Nonetheless, they've begrudgingly given him credit for his military-imposed lockdowns, and for reimposing the restrictive measures in and around Manila. Still, none of this has stopped Southeast Asia's biggest outbreak from clearly still has a long way to go to bring COVID-19 to heel.
And as South Korea is showing us right now, the virus can be surprisingly difficult to eradicate completely, just one more reason why the world needs to find a more sustainable way to live with COVID-19, rather than resorting to lockdowns as the only tool in the kit.
But there's one variable that could upend all of this thinking, and effectively force all vulnerable populations into strict lockdown mode: that would be a mutation that causes it to become even more deadly. As Dr. Fauci once warned, mutations could make the virus more virulent and more infectious, and there's already some evidence that certain strains of the virus are much deadlier than others.
And as Bloomberg reported on Monday, Southeast Asia - Malaysia specifically - has seen evidence that a certain mutation is more infectious, just like other mutations catalogued in the UK, NY and elsewhere. They call the mutation "D614G". It's also the "predominant variation of the virus" seen in Europe and the US - meaning it's the same "world-conquering" virus we reported on back in June.
Southeast Asia is facing a strain of the new coronavirus that the Philippines, which faces the region’s largest outbreak, is studying to see whether the mutation makes it more infectious.
The strain, earlier seen in other parts of the world and called D614G, was found in a Malaysian cluster of 45 cases that started from someone who returned from India and breached his 14-day home quarantine. The Philippines detected the strain among random Covid-19 samples in the largest city of its capital region.
The mutation “is said to have a higher possibility of transmission or infectiousness, but we still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” Philippines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing on Monday.
And now, we can add 'Southeast Asia' to its list of conquered territory.
Though the often intransigent WHO has yet to fully acknowledge the mutation's potential, it "is said to have a higher possibility of transmission or infectiousness, but we still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen," Philippines' Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told BBG.
Keputusan terkini baru diterima dari makmal Institut Penyelidikan Perubatan (IMR): seperti disyaki mutasi jenis D614G...Posted by Noor Hisham Abdullah on Saturday, August 15, 2020
Some argue the mutation won't have an impact on vaccines being developed. But we can't say any of this with 100% certainty, as much as some scientists would like to dismiss the risks out of hand.
One HK University professor told BBG that the mutation "might be a little bit more contagious. We haven’t yet got enough evidence to evaluate that, but there’s no evidence that it’s a lot more contagious,” University of Hong Kong’s Cowling said.
Others have claimed it's "ten times more infectious" than the original.
Still, as more evidence suggests that the variation is linked to higher levels of mortality, understanding its potential will be key to bringing the vicious pandemic to heel.