Philippines detects first cases of COVID-19 variant first seen in South Africa
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.

Philippines detects first cases of COVID-19 variant first seen in South Africa

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - March 2, 2021 - 8:38am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 9:36 a.m.) — The more contagious COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa has reached the Philippines, the Department of Health said Tuesday.

The Philippine Genome Center detected six cases of B.1.351, or the variant that was first seen in South Africa in December last year, when it conducted genome sequencing of samples from 350 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. 

The agency said three are considered local cases, two are returning overseas Filipinos (ROF). It is verifying if the sixth case is a local case or an ROF. 

Here are the details about the cases:

  • 61-year-old female from Pasay City, active case being managed by the city
  • 39-year-old male from Pasay City, active case being managed by the City
  • 40-year-old male, already recovered
  • ROF who arrived from United Arab Emirates
  • ROF who arrived from Qatar 

Higher transmissibility, impact on vaccine efficacy

Viruses, like the SARS-CoV-2, mutate all the time. As a consequence, the emergence of new variants is expected. Variant refers to the changed virus of the original virus. 

Since its emergence late last year, the variant first seen in South Africa has spread to at least 48 countries. 

The detection of the new variant comes as the Philippines begins its vaccination campaign against COVID-19 with Sinovac shots donated by the Chinese government.

The B.1.351 variant carries a mutation called N501Y, which also appears in the B.1.1.7. variant, or the more infectious variant found in the United Kingdom. 

It also carries another mutation called E484K, which may help the virus dodge some kinds of antibodies. 

“While there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease, the pattern of mutations within this variant suggests higher transmissibility and may have an impact on vaccine efficacy,” the DOH said. 

Last month, South Africa halted the use of the vaccine developed by British Swedish firm AstraZeneca after preliminary showed the vaccine offered less protection against B.1.351. 

CNN reported that a study suggests that Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect people against the variant first seen in South Africa. It also reported that Moderna found there was a reduction in the antibody response to viruses genetically engineered to look like B.1.351 but it was not enough of a reduction to make the jab any less effective. 

According to a Reuters report, the Butantan Biomedical Center in Brazil found the vaccine of China’s Sinovac Biotech effective against the variants that first emerged in the UK and South Africa. 

More cases of UK variant

Thirty additional cases of the variant first detected in the United Kingdom were also recorded, bringing to 87 the total number of B.1.1.7 cases in the Philippines. 

Of the 30 additional cases, 20 are ROFs who came from the Middle East, Singapore and the United States between January 20 and February 16. Thirteen of them are asymptomatic active cases, while seven have now recovered. 

Three more cases were found in the Cordillera Administrative Region. 

“One case is currently active and is admitted to a hospital, one has recovered, and one is a reported fatality. The linkage of the 3 local cases to previously reported B.1.1.7 variant cases in the region is currently being investigated,” the department said. 

The DOH also reported two additional samples from Central Visayas were found to have both N501Y and E484K mutations. 

The country has been logging over 2,000 COVID-19 additional cases for five consecutive days. To date, 578,381 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, including 12,322 deaths. 

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: March 22, 2021 - 12:43pm

A thread on new variants of SARS-CoV-2 reported in the Philippines.

March 22, 2021 - 12:43pm

New variants of COVID-19, such as those first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa, have been detected in all Metro Manila cities.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says the variants have contributed to the spike in the number of cases in the capital region.

March 17, 2021 - 9:28am

COVID-19 variants first detected in the Philippines have reached the United Kingdom.

In its latest update, Public Health England announces it has identified two cases of the variant P.3 in England.

"One of the cases is linked with international travel and the other is currently under investigation. All appropriate public health interventions are being undertaken," it says.

March 13, 2021 - 11:05am

The Department of Health detects the first case of coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil.

The health department also detects 59 more cases of the coronavirus variant first seen in the UK and 32 more cases of the variant first seen in South Africa.

March 5, 2021 - 1:26pm

The Department of Health reports 52 additional cases B.1.351 variant (South Africa variant) cases and 31 more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant (UK variant) in the country.

Among the latest batch of samples sequenced by the UP-Philippine Genome Center, there are also 42 new cases with mutations in Central Visayas.

"The DOH and its concerned Centers for Health Development is coordinating with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and Local Government Units (LGUs) in NCR and Region 7 to institute measures to contain further transmission of these variants and mutations," the DOH says.

March 2, 2021 - 8:25am

The DOH reports two additional samples from Central Visayas with both N501Y and E484K mutations.

Meanwhile, two cases from the region previously reported to have the mutations have been delisted. The total of these mutations in the country remain at 34 cases.

"Despite the arrival of vaccines and the successful initial vaccination activities, the DOH emphasizes that adherence to minimum public health standards is still the best course of action to prevent community transmission and further virus mutations," the DOH says.

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