Philippines detects first cases of COVID-19 variant from India
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 from India

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - May 11, 2021 - 11:39am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:14 p.m.) — The Philippines reported Tuesday its first two cases of the COVID-19 variant first found in India, which has been classified as being “of concern” by the World Health Organization.

Two returning overseas Filipinos tested positive for the B.1.617 variant, the Department of Health said in a briefing. 

“They did not come from India nor passed through India,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said. 

One of the cases is a 37-year-old male who arrived in the Philippines from Oman on April 10, while the other is a 58-year-old male who arrived from the United Arab Emirates on April 19.

The two cases have already recovered from the disease. 

The government is prohibiting the entry of travelers from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka until May 14. 

Authorities approved last week the recommendation that inbound travelers be tested for COVID-19 on the seventh day of their quarantine. 

“It just underscores the fact that we really need to continue intensified implementation of our border control measures: testing at the right time and then completion of quarantine. It’s not just implementation, but unified implementation across all our regions,” said Dr. Marissa Alejandria, member of the DOH technical advisory group. 

Variant of concern

On Monday, the WHO classified B.1.617 as a “variant of concern at the global level.” A variant of concern is defined as one with increase in transmissibility, increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation, and decrease in effectiveness of public health measures or available diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. 

The B.1.617 variant, first found in October 2020, carries several mutations, including the L452R and E484K.

The L452R mutation is associated with increased transmissibility and reduced antibody neutralization, which may help the virus get past antibodies. Meanwhile, the E484Q mutation, which is similar to E484K mutation, may also help the virus escape immune response. 

“Based on current data, the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective at preventing disease and death in people infected with this variant,” the WHO said in a statement. 

India is suffering from a devastating COVID-19 surge, which has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system. Experts said the alarming growth in infections is accelerated by new variants 

Three other variants of COVID-19—those first detected in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa which the WHO has classified as being “of concern”—have also reached the Philippines.

The Philippines has hundreds of cases of the P.3 variant, or the one first detected in the country. The DOH said it is still not identified as a variant of concern.

The country is battling a spike in infections that has raised its COVID-19 caseload to more than 1.1 million, including nearly 18,562 fatalities. — with report from Agence France-Presse 

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