Detection of new coronavirus variants in Philippines delayed due to lack of kits
Pedestrians walk past a tribute mural for frontliners painted by Angono artists at the triage area of the Mission Hospital in Pasig City on June 15, 2021.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

Detection of new coronavirus variants in Philippines delayed due to lack of kits

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - June 18, 2021 - 4:51pm

MANILA, Philippines — Logistical issues are affecting the country’s genome sequencing output and delaying the release of updates on the circulating coronavirus variants, the Department of Health said Friday.

In a briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said there was a lack of genome sequencing kits in the country.

Genome sequencing, which analyzes a sample taken from a diagnosed patient and compares it with others, is used to check for the presence of COVID-19 variants.

“There is a slowdown in the testing for genome sequencing because of this specific logistical issue,” Vergeire said, adding that supplies are arriving soon.

She said the kits that were available in the country could be used only for smaller machines, which have the capacity to sequence 45 samples.

The Philippine Genome Center, which leads the country’s biosurveillance efforts, sequences a batch of 750 samples a week. Results of the whole genome sequencing are usually released by weekend.

The latest genome sequencing results were released on May 29. At the time, there were 137 new cases of Beta variant (B.1.351), 104 additional cases of Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), one more case of Delta variant (B.1.617.2), and four new cases of Theta variant (P3). Theta is still not considered a variant of concern.

The health official said authorities will get samples from areas seeing increases in cases, such as those in Visayas and Mindanao.

In February, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the allocation of P362 million for the country’s biosurveillance efforts to monitor and appropriate response to the threat of coronavirus variants.

Aside from variants Alpha, Beta, Delta and Theta, the Gamma variant (P1) had been also detected in the country.

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. 

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