Is UK COVID-19 variant more deadly? Experts say virus not sole factor

Angela Coloma, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 23 2021 02:22 PM

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA - Several experts on Saturday said the report that the new and more transmissible coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant from the United Kingdom is "30 percent more deadly" may not be directly attributed to the strain itself, as several factors also contribute to the death rate.

In a public press briefing Saturday, infectious disease specialist Dr. Edsel Salvana said the UK Prime Minister's statement that the new variant was a deadlier kind is "very preliminary."

He said several other factors, such as the transmissibility of the virus, may come into play as more patients are likely to contract the disease and overwhelm health care systems.

"The other thing is, kung transmissible ang isang variant, mas maraming cases, mas stressed ang ating health care system. So in general puwede kapag mapupuno ang ospital, mas marami ang mapapatay kasi di ba hindi po naaalagaan so dapat pong pag-aralan 'yon," said Salvana, a member of the Department of Health's Technical Advisory Group.

(There are more cases, and our healthcare system is more stressed. So in general, it can be when more hospitals are filled, and more deaths are tallied because they are not being attended to. That's what needs to be studied.)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said there is “some evidence” that the new strain of the coronavirus first detected in Britain was “associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

UK’s chief government scientist Patrick Vallance said the variant could be 30 percent more deadly but stressed that there is still insufficient data.

The virus, first found in the UK in the later part of 2020, was first detected in the Philippines in a 29-year-old male who flew from Dubai back to Manila on January 7. He has recovered but must still undergo monitoring.

On Friday, the DOH announced that there were 16 more confirmed cases of the new variant, bringing the total to 17.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said of the new cases, three have already recovered while 13 are still ill. Among the active cases, 3 are asymptomatic, while 10 have mild symptoms.

Initial analysis showed that the variant may spread more readily between people, with an estimated increase of between 40 percent and 70 percent in transmissibility, according to the World Health Organization.

Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, a pediatric infectious disease expert, said it was expected that a "larger number of the population" would contract the illness, including those with comorbidities.

"I-expect natin na mas malaking portion ng population ay magkakaroon ng sakit. And doon sa mga magkakasakit marami doon ay may banta at may sakit na siyempre magiging lantad sa poor outcomes. Lalo silang magkakaroon ng tsansang mamatay o magkaroon ng severe critical disease," Ong-Lim said.

(Let's expect that a big portion of the population would get sick. Among those who will get sick, a lot of them have comorbidities and they will be more exposed to poor outcomes. They will have a higher probability of dying or incurring a severe critical disease.)

Worldwide, people who have comorbidities and aging populations have been considered "at risk" for more severe symptoms of the virus, with some cases leading to death.

Dr. Marissa Alejandria of the Philippine Society of Microbiology also said demographics in a country may also come to play.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, meanwhile, said enforcement of health protocols was also a major factor, noting that this was more relaxed in other countries.

"Marami ring breach of protocols 'yung mga increased social gatherings, so you cannot just attribute it to the virus itself but in an interplay of other factors. In the US and the UK, talagang maraming pasaway at hindi sumusuot ng face mask, face shield, physical distancing, 'yung sobrang "human rights" nangingibabaw na gusto nilang lumabas, ayaw nilang mag-restrain, ayaw nila magpadisiplina,"

(There are a lot of breach of protocols. Like, increased social gatherings, so you cannot just attribute it to the virus itself, but in an interplay of other factors. In the US and the UK, they are not wearing face masks, face shields, not following physical distancing. Their call for "human rights" prevails, they want to go out unrestrained. They do not want to be disciplined.)

The experts then urged the public to stringently follow minimum health standards to keep the cases "manageable."