Viruses are resilient entities that can adapt and evolve to suit their surroundings, making them particularly able to survive in a multitude of environments. They are able to infect all types of life forms, from humans, animals, plants, to even bacteria. When they have successfully infected a host cell, they will undergo rapid reproduction to produce identical copies of the virus in the millions. Some are so adaptable that they are able to infect across species. They are found everywhere and in terms of biomass, they are the largest. Some are so highly virulent that even standing close to an infected person is sufficient for virus transmission and spread.
Viruses are highly adaptable due to the selection pressure they go through. As they replicate in large numbers very quickly, they are able to withstand the selection pressures that new environments cause, which allows the viruses to mutate until the mutation is a beneficial one that helps them survive in a particular environment. According to Professor Dr. Sazaly Abu Bakar (a virologist of the Tropical Infectious Diseases Research and Education Center (TIDREC), University of Malaya), in the process of evolving and adapting to new hosts or vectors, multiple strains (also known as quasispecies) will be created in the process of achieving the most efficient evolution. If a virus is too virulent and kills off its host, the chances of its survival is also affected as transmission stops. Therefore, an efficient virus in this case isn’t one that reproduces in large numbers and uses up all of its host’s resources until it kills of its host, but one that is able to replicate efficiently without fatal consequences to the host.
The COVID-19 disease, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, and in a matter of months, has caused a worldwide pandemic. The result is such that parts (Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, and Putrajaya, and also Sabah) of Malaysia are going through another round of conditional movement control order (CMCO), reportedly due to the mutated strain of the COVID-19 virus (D614G) that happened to infect the super spreader clusters. The COVID-19 virus is one of those viruses that are able to replicate efficiently without killing the host, which is why even asymptomatic people also have the potential to infect others.
The particular strain that is currently spreading throughout Malaysia, beginning with the Sivagangga cluster is evolving to be highly transmissible without fatalities, as the survival of the virus depends on the survival of the host. Professor Sazaly said that the D614G didn’t particularly evolve in Malaysia, it probably just happened to be the strain to infect the Sivagangga cluster which turned out to be a super spreader cluster, and thus this strain is the predominant one that is spreading throughout Malaysia at this moment.
It is doubtful that the D614G strain is more deadly than the previous strain, as the mutation only involves the change of the D (aspartic acid) at the 614 position on the RNA strand to G (glycine). There are no definitive studies conducted thus far that prove the mutation is a significant one that changes the immunogenicity of the virus. In general, most mutations do not survive as they are usually transcription errors which introduce deleterious effects to the virus, only those which make the virus more efficient survive. In this case, however, the protein surface of the virus is big enough not to cause highly significant changes to the virus and its nature, whether beneficial or otherwise. These mutations are just variants of the virus, just as different eye colors and the ability to roll tongues in humans are. So, there is no strong evidence as of yet to state that the current strain of the COVID-19 virus is more virulent than the previous strain.
In short, it can be surmised that the preventative actions taken by the government during the first wave of the virus actually curbed the fast spread of the virus. The lack of movement and contact between people during the first wave succeeded in interrupting the transmission and helping keep the numbers of positive cases down. However, it is not feasible to implement a second complete lockdown in Malaysia, as the economy may be affected badly by doing so. Therefore, all Malaysians from all backgrounds need to do their respective parts to stop the spread of the virus as we are slowly easing into the new norms. There is always a chance for infection, and reinfection for those who have survived the virus. People misunderstand the meaning of immunity to be complete protection from the virus. Immunity simply means that the body has recognized the virus and is able to react to the virus faster if a second infection occurs, It doesn’t exactly prevent the infection from happening. With the fast evolution of this virus, however, it is best to adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that the authorities have implemented. Physical distancing, regular hand washing or use of hand sanitizer, and wearing face masks are simple things to do, but effective in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.