Does PH have own COVID-19 variant? Expert says it remains to be seen

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 19 2021 05:04 PM

Commuters line up to board the bus while observing health safety protocol, at the Roosevelt bus station in Quezon City on Feb. 1, 2021. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Health experts have yet to determine the presence of a possible Philippine variant of COVID-19 following the detection of 2 mutations of the virus in Central Visayas.

"Whether we have an emerging Philippine variant or not, that remains to be seen," Dr. Cynthia Saloma of Philippine Genome Center said in a virtual press briefing.

"That's always a possibility in different countries around the world kaya po tayo (that's why we're conducting) nag-genomic biosurveillance," she added.

To determine the presence of mutations in other surrounding regions, Saloma said they were ramping up genome sequencing. Results may be released "in the next few weeks," she added.

The Department of Health on Thursday confirmed in Central Visayas the detection of 2 mutations of "potential clinical significance" of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the illness.

The 2 mutations were identified as E484K and N501Y, and were found in the samples sent from Central Visayas.

The E484K mutation, which means changes in its genetic sequence, is present in the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2.

Meanwhile, the N501Y mutation is also found in the UK coronavirus variant, which experts say has higher transmissibility.

Variant refers to a virus that has developed a specific group of mutations causing it to behave differently against the strain it originally originated from.

Courtesy of DOH


During the presser, Dr. Alethea De Guzman of DOH's epidemiology bureau said Central Visayas had recorded an increase of COVID-19 cases after the holidays.

Areas with "steep rise" of coronavirus infections are Cebu Province, Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City, and Mandaue City, she said. There's no evidence yet if the increase in number of cases was due to virus mutations.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque also said officials had yet to confirm if the mutations would have significant public health implications.

"Sa kasalukuyan, hindi pa sapat ang ating mga datos upang matukoy ng ating mga eksperto kung ano nga ba ang implications ng 2 mutations na ito sa virus," he said.

(For now, our data is not enough for our experts to determine the implications of the 2 mutations of the virus.)

Duque stressed that virus naturally mutate when they are transmitted from one person to another.

Most mutations will be neutral, which means it has little effect to the transmission and virulence of the virus. Others could be of "clinically significant mutation" when it becomes detrimental or highly infectious, he added.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, the Philippines has tallied over 555,000 coronavirus infections, of which more than 11,600 have died. The tally includes 524,000 recoveries while some 31,000 patients are considered active cases or assumed as infectious.