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

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
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.

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. 

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: August 12, 2022 - 2:44pm

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

August 12, 2022 - 2:44pm

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) rallies all local government units (LGUs) "to be more vigilant and reinforce measures against COVID-19 to impede the projected increase in cases until the end of the year."

DILG Secretary Benhur Abalos says: “Kami po ay nananawagan sa ating LGUs na bantayang mabuti ang mga kaso ng COVID sa kanilang nasasakupan. We are still in a pandemic and we count on our local officials to lead this war, especially in the coming months where alarming numbers of COVID-19 cases are projected.

He calls on LGUs "to fortify their measures against COVID-19, following the DOH’s recent projection of increase in COVID-19 cases in NCR by October, which can even extend to other parts of the country until the end of the year."

July 22, 2021 - 1:41pm

The Department of Health announces the detection of 12 new local cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19, bringing the total to 47. Six from Central Luzon, three from Metro Manila, two from Calabarzon and one from Bicol Region.

All Delta cases have been tagged as recovered, but their outcomes are being validated by our regional and local health offices. — Christian Deiparine

July 16, 2021 - 11:05am

The Department of Health says it has confirmed 16 cases of the Delta variant in the Philippines. Of those case, 11 are considered local transmissions.

May 30, 2021 - 5:13pm

Another nine UK variant cases of COVID19 were detected in Kalinga prompting the Kalinga Provincial Health Office to reiterate to the public to maintain vigilance and strictly compliance to health protocols.

According to the Regional Epidemiology Surveillance Unit of the Center for Health Development Cordillera, the newly identified cases were from the five towns, one each from Rizal, Pasil, Tanudan and Lubuagan. Four cases meanwhile were detected in Kalinga's capital, Tabuk City.

Kalinga has logged a total of 19 UK variant cases since it got into the country last January 2021. —  The STAR/Artemio Dumlao

May 29, 2021 - 3:37pm

The Department of Health announces new cases of the following variants detected in the Philippines:

  • 1 B.1.617.2 (Indian) variant,
  • 104 B.1.1.7 (UK) variant
  • 137 B.1.351 (South Africa) variant,
  • 4 P.3 variant
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