Malaysia says detects two cases of new coronavirus variant

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The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Kuala Lumpur

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has detected two cases of a new coronavirus variant that is thought to be more transmissible and resistant to antibodies, a senior health official said on Friday.

The variant, also known as B.1.525, was found in two people who had travelled from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, Director-General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement.

Analysis of the travellers' COVID-19 tests indicated the presence of mutations including E484K and a similar suite of protein deletions seen in a variant of the virus first detected in Britain, Noor Hisham said.

"The E484K protein spike mutation is of high concern as this mutation has been reported to evade the immune system," he said.

Health authorities in the United Kingdom and other countries have said the E484K mutation could potentially reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

The B.1.525 variant has also been detected in England, Nigeria, Denmark and Canada.

Malaysia on Friday eased movement restrictions in the capital Kuala Lumpur and several states, nine days after it began a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme.

The Southeast Asian country has recorded more than 300,000 coronavirus cases so far, including 1,153 deaths.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Ed Davies)