MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Health on Tuesday said it is hoping to immediately stop the spread of the more transmissible COVID-19 variants, especially the one from South Africa, which is said to affect vaccine efficacy.
This after the government announced for the first time that it has detected the South African variant — in 6 cases in the country while the UK variant in a total of 87 cases.
“Both have higher transmissibility. The B.1.1.7 or the UK variant and 'yung ating South African variant (and the South African variant),” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing.
“Pero itong South African variant meron siyang isang component or isang mutation na nakaka-apekto sa vaccine efficacy,” Vergeire said.
(But the South African variant has a component or a mutation affecting vaccine efficacy.)
The health official called it “immune escape,” preventing the body’s immune system from responding to the infection.
“Kaya ang gusto natin, as much as possible, fast containment tayo ng variant na ito so that we can prevent it to further spread,” she said.
(This is why we want, as much as possible, fast containment of this variant so we can prevent further spread.)
In an interview on Teleradyo Tuesday night, Vergeire said the local government of Pasay is doing its best to contain the spread of the more transmissive South African variant.
"So sa city of Pasay, 27 barangays are in barangay lockdown. Pagkatapos nagdeploy na rin po ang ating DILG ng additional personnel diyan, we also have police visibility para lang makapag-comply ang mga tao sa minimum health protocols natin," she said.
(In the city of Pasay, 27 barangays are under barangay lockdown. The DILG has also deployed additional personnel in the area. We also have police visibility so people will comply to the minimum health protocols.)
Vergeire also said the government will be inoculating barangay health workers in order to protect them from the virus.
"Sabi nga natin, bibigyan po natin ng bakuna 'yung ating mga healthcare workers diyan kahit hindi po sila taga-ospital para magkaroon po tayo ng kahit kaunting proteksyon," she added.
(We will be vaccinating the health care workers there even if they do not work in hospitals to give them some protection.)
Vergeire, likewise, said the government is conducting extensive contact tracing and genome sequencing so as to detect whether these variants have spread to other areas.
The UK variant was first detected in the country on January 13. And while the government has said it is too early to say if there is community transmission of the variant in the country, it said there is confirmed local transmission in the Cordillera Administrative Region.
Vergeire said they are still validating if there is also local transmission of the South African variant in Pasay because of a possible link of 2 cases.
She said they will discuss if new protocols will be put in place for travelers although the current guidelines were already implemented because of the UK variant.
The DOH has repeatedly said that minimum health standards such as the wearing of face masks and physical distancing still help curb the spread of new variants.
Vergeire also allayed fears that COVID-19 vaccines would offer less protection against the South African variant. She said that while new variants might lower the efficacy rate, there is still protection especially against severe illness.