Genome center scales down COVID-19 testing to focus on detecting variants

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Genome center scales down COVID-19 testing to focus on detecting variants
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—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 (blue/pink) cultured in the lab. Image captured and colorized at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana.

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:31 p.m.) — The Philippine Genome Center has announced it would reduce its coronavirus RT-PCR testing services to channel more resources in detecting COVID-19 variants cases in the country. 

PGC's pronouncement came as health officials reported 640 more infections from the highly transmissible Delta variant on Monday. 

"The shift will lead to an expected increase in the sequencing capacity and detection of COVID-19 variant cases in the country in the succeeding months," the Department of Health said. 

While more patients with variants are expected to be reported from this, it is unclear how it could affect the country's tally of newly reported cases. 

DOH said PGC used to run some 150 to 200 COVID-19 tests per day, but will now only have a capacity of up to 50.

Outputs from the facility contributed 0.45% of total samples, and 0.83% of positive individuals "on a cumulative basis."

In turn, the agency said PGC's move would allow it to run 1,500 samples per genome sequencing in the coming weeks.

Authorities have long admitted the Philippines' genome sequencing capacity has remained limited. 

More than a year into the pandemic and amid the Delta variant's threat, the PGC can only run 750 samples per week for the entire country. 

An official of the facility has bared they would need P100 million to expand their biosurveillance efforts to Visayas and Mindanao. 

Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz said P50 million each would be for two satellite facilities outside Metro Manila. 

In July, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country has sent only roughly 1% of total positive samples for genome sequencing. 

This, she added, is far from the World Health Organization's standard of 5% sequenced. "We have not attained that yet."

DOH said then it is eyeing to tap the Visayas and Mindanao campuses of the University of the Philippines for expanding PGC's reach. 





As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: December 4, 2021 - 5:20pm

Local and global updates on COVID-19 cases, outbreaks and containment efforts due to the highly contagious Delta variant, first identified in India. (Main image: Lockdown in Sydney, Australia in June 2021 by AFP/Saeed Khan)

December 4, 2021 - 5:20pm

The Delta variant remains dominant and experts, governments and vaccine makers are urging people to take advantage of booster jabs where they are available.

Delta has proved able to evade vaccine defences against transmission better than the Alpha, Beta and Gamma COVID-19 variants. 

But jabs have remained highly effective at preventing severe illness from Delta, lowering the risk of overwhelming hospital resources. — AFP

November 2, 2021 - 12:52pm

The DOH reports 520 new cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant, bringing the total in the Philippines to 5,331.

October 22, 2021 - 10:15am

The new COVID-19 Delta subvariant has not yet been detected in the Philippines, the Department of Health says.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says health authorities are monitoring 46 sublineages of the Delta variant, but “the particular Delta sublineage has not yet been detected among the COVID-19 positive samples sequenced in the country.”

Experts, however, are looking into the potential impact of the Delta AY.4.2. sublineage on transmissibility.

October 18, 2021 - 11:47am

The Department of Health reports 633 additional cases of the Delta variant.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says the additional infections account for 84.63% of the 748 samples tested on October 16.

October 11, 2021 - 10:24am

The DOH reports 411 more cases of the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant in the country.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says the new Delta variant cases come from 747 samples collected from February to September.

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