More contagious COVID-19 variant not yet in Philippines but don't ease guard â experts
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (gray) cultured in the lab. Image captured and colorized at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana.

More contagious COVID-19 variant not yet in Philippines but don't ease guard — experts

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - January 6, 2021 - 6:07pm

MANILA, Philippines — The public should not let their guard down even after health authorities reported that the new and more transmissible coronavirus variant has not yet reached the Philippines, experts said Wednesday, urging them to continue following minimum public health standards.

The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) said Wednesday that the COVID-19 variant sweeping the United Kingdom has not yet been detected in the country based on the analysis of 305 samples collected in November and December last year. 

The variant that emerged in South Africa has also not been detected in the samples that were studied.  

According to genomic researchers, the most common variant observed in local samples was the D614G, which was first detected in the country in June 2020.

PGC Executive Director Cynthia Salome also said the genomic biosurveillance must be strengthened through “sequencing of more samples, particularly from areas with recent clusters of infections, incoming travelers and hospitalized patients in order to keep track of the changes within the circulating local viral populations.”

Remain vigilant

While this is a welcome development, experts called on Filipinos to remain vigilant and continue practicing preventive measures such as mask wearing, physical distancing and proper handwashing.

“It’s just a matter of time that there will be a new variant here, whether we pick up the UK variant from returning travelers or we detect our own variant,” Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, a member of the Department of Health-Technical Advisory Group (TAG), said in a mix of English and Filipino in a briefing Wednesday.

If the new more infectious variant reaches the Philippines, this will become a “huge problem,” Ong-Lim said as it will result in an increase in critical care utilization, spike in the number of positive cases and will even hurt the country’s economy, which is reopening further this year.

Following the easing of quarantine restrictions in July last year, the country’s health system was overwhelmed and health workers were exhausted. This prompted them to sound a distress call as they urged President Rodrigo Duterte to reimpose tighter movement restrictions in areas in and around Metro Manila.

Dr. Marissa Alejandria, a DOH-TAG member, stressed the need to keep infection rates low as it decreases the chance of mutation.

Dr. John Wong, an epidemiologist and founder of research firm EpiMetrics, projected the new COVID-19 variant may result in a much higher number of infections and fatalities if it enters the Philippines and eventually becomes the most dominant variant. 

According to the preliminary findings of the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, there is no evidence that the variant is more deadly than others. But researchers estimated it is 56% more contagious. 

Working group on COVID-19 variants

The emergence of the new variant has prompted the Philippines to impose travel restrictions on at least 21 countries, including the UK and the United States. The list of countries covered by the travel ban will be regularly updated to include nations that will officially report detection of variants.

The country’s coronavirus task force also formed a technical working group on COVID-19 variants. The group, led by Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, will monitor and identify the occurrence of new variants and provide policy recommendations.

Experts from DOH-TAG, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health, PGC and EpiMetrics comprise the group.

The DOH is coordinating with Hong Kong health authorities after they reported that a female Hong Kong resident who arrived from Manila late last year tested positive for the new COVID-19 variant. 

The country has so far reported 480,737 COVID-19 cases, of which 4.7% are active cases. It has the second worst outbreak in Southeast Asia after neighboring Indonesia.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 27, 2021 - 9:41am

Other regions and provinces in the Philippines considered moderate and low-risk areas will be placed under general community quarantine starting May 1. Bookmark this page for updates. (Main image by The STAR/Edd Gumban)

February 27, 2021 - 9:41am

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque says Metro Manila will remain under general community quarantine.

February 26, 2021 - 4:04pm

The Philippines records the highest rise in daily cases since October with 2,651 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the national tally to 571,327.

The country's death toll is at 12,247 with 46 more fatalities while the total of survivors is at 524,582 with 561 additional recoveries.

Active cases in the country are at 34,498.

February 23, 2021 - 4:05pm

The Department of Health registers 1,414 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the national caseload to 564,865.

Of these, 29,817 are active cases. 

The DOH also registers 16 new deaths and 72 additional survivors, bringing the death toll to 12,107 and the total of survivors to 522,941.

February 22, 2021 - 7:02pm

There will be no nationwide shift to the more lenient Modified General Community Quarantine until the national vaccination program against COVID-19, News5 reports, citing a senator close to the president.

The Palace has yet to issue an official statement.

February 22, 2021 - 4:07pm

The Department of Health records another 2,288 COVID-19 cases, pushing the national caseload to 563,456.

The DOH also logs 6 new fatalities and 33 additional survivors, bringing the death toll to 12,094 and the total of survivors to 522,874.

Active cases in the country are at 28,488.

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