MANILA (UPDATED) — The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday night confirmed the detection of two mutations of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, in Central Visayas, after samples from patients were sent to undergo genome sequencing.
"Following the enhanced genomic biosurveillance in the country, the Department of Health (DOH) and the University of the Philippines - Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) today confirm the detection of SARS-CoV-2 mutations of potential clinical significance in samples sequenced last week from Central Visayas," the DOH said in a statement.
The DOH also said the they are investigating said mutations, and have yet to determine whether these will have significant public health implications.
"The DOH and UP-PGC however emphasize that current available data are insufficient to conclude that the mutations found in the local sample will have significant public health implications," it added. "The DOH further reiterates that viruses naturally undergo mutations as they reproduce, both within the human body and when they are transmitted from one person to another."
Health officials in Region 7 earlier said they are investigating 2 "mutations of concern" in the region.
“There are two mutations of concern that were found out in 37 out of 50 samples . . . 29 out of these 50 had co-occurrence of this 2 mutations,” said Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, spokesperson of the Department of Health in Central Visayas.
In a press briefing held online, Loreche said samples from COVID-19 patients sent to the Philippine Genomic Center covered the period of January 30 to February 2.
These samples, she said, came from patients in Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City and Cebu province.
While there is no official name yet, Loreche said the two mutations are known as E484K and N501Y.
“These are now what we call a variant of concern. There is no name yet. They have not identified the entire sequence,” she said.
Dr. Jaime Bernadas, regional director of DOH 7, said the presence of the two mutations still needs further surveillance studies and investigations.
“What we intend to do further is for every one to be aware that the virus can mutate, the virus can change its characteristics,” Bernadas said.
Loreche clarified that the said mutations are also of global concern because they are related to increased transmissibility.
“Whether these are going to be more virulent, meaning to say mas grabe ang sipa ng virus na ito to cause a more severe disease or to be more pathogenic, mas mahirap siya, we have to await first,” she said.
She urged the public to be more cautious and continue observing health protocols.
“We are thankful to the PGC for giving us a guidance on this. It should help us prepare and also do the necessary mitigating factors to control our cases. The more cases we have the greater possibility of having these variations.
Meanwhile, DOH 7 is still waiting for the results of the second batch of 91 samples it sent for genomic sequencing.
As of Wednesday, DOH Central Visayas has reported a total of 5,240 active cases.