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âPrematureâ to say new COVID-19 variant is deadlier, experts say
Artist's rendition of the coronavirus disease.
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

‘Premature’ to say new COVID-19 variant is deadlier, experts say

Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) - January 23, 2021 - 3:57pm

MANILA, Philippines — It is still “premature” to say that the new coronavirus variant which was first identified in the United Kingdom is deadlier, experts affiliated with the Philippines’ Department of Health said Saturday, adding that there may be other factors which can cause higher death rates in countries with coronavirus outbreaks.

“The study is still very premature. There is still uncertainty on whether the virus is more deadly,” infectious diseases specialist Marissa Alejandria told a news conference.

Edsel Salvaña, another infectious diseases specialist, said that the new variant, which is also feared to be more contagious, may be infecting more people which can cause stresses to the healthcare system and lead to less people getting the medical attention that they need.

“In general, what could happen is that the hospitals are full, more people would die because they are not taken care of,” Salvaña said.

Anna Ong-Lim, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases, said it is also possible that the disease is infecting more people who are vulnerable, like the elderly or those with comorbidities, which can lead to more deaths.

New variant, old strategies

The experts said that despite the threats posed by the new variant, the same strategies to curb its spread, which include the wearing of masks, face shields and frequent hand hygiene, would still apply.

“We need to follow our quarantine protocols, especially our travelers. Because we’ve seen that travel, local or international, mobility, can facilitate the spread of the virus, whether that’s a variant or not,” Alejandria said.

They also underscored the importance of consulting a doctor early to stop the transmission of the virus and to lessen the chances of COVID-19 progressing into a severe disease.

“We see from the data that it takes people five days from symptom onset to seeking medical care,” said John Wong, founder of private research firm EpiMetrics. “This is too late because this is five days in the community where they will be infecting others and if this is a severe form of the disease, it increases the risk for death by waiting this long.”

The Philippines now has 17 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus variant, B.1.1.7, with 16 of them reported by the DOH late Friday evening. 

The earliest known case of the new variant dates back to Dec. 10, 2020, four days before the UK reported the mutation to the World Health Organization.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday that there is “some evidence” that the new variant is more deadly, although the country's chief government scientist Patrick Vallance said this relied on sparse data.

Preliminary estimates find that B.1.1.7, which according to the WHO has spread to 60 countries, is between 30% and 70% more contagious than other forms of the virus. 

Experts warned that an increase in the transmission of the new variant will lead to more people getting infected and sick, which can overwhelm the country's health system anew.

COVID-19 NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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