Nearly half of COVID-19 samples from Metro Manila linked to foreign variants: expert

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 06 2021 12:56 PM

People wait outside of the medical social services assistance office at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) compound in Padre Faura, Manila on September 29, 2020. PGH, which is the biggest modern government tertiary hospital in the country, provides services to at least 600,00 patients yearly, 80 percent of which are indigent Filipinos. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Nearly half of sequenced COVID-19 samples from Metro Manila are foreign variants of the virus, a member of the Philippines' vaccine expert panel said Thursday.

Between January 4 and May 2, the Philippines has sequenced 7,167 samples nationwide, but has yet to disclose the recent number of samples taken from Metro Manila, according to data from the Department of Health (DOH).

"Since these are only representative samples... it will just tell you that it is present in NCR (National Capital Region), said Dr. Rontgene Solante, who is also the head of San Lazaro Hospital's Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine.

"It does not mean that it is causing community transmission," he said in an online press conference.

It would "really take time" before the Philippines could say if the new variants, which are about 50 percent more transmissible, are already the dominant strains of COVID-19 in the country, he said.

"The sample should be high enough and wide enough [pero] talagang kulang lang tayo sa data (but we really lack data)," Solante said.

"'Yung sampling natin is really very low... We need to get those data para we have a more objective way of telling the people na ito na 'yung nakita," he said.

(Our sampling is really very low... We need to get those data so that we can have a more objective way of telling people which variants have been detected.)

The United Kingdom sampled aboput 10 percent of its total population before it said that there was community transmission of the UK variant in at least 2 cities, he said.

As of May 3, authorities have yet to confirm the presence of the Indian variant in the Philippines, but has monitored 1,075 B.1351 variant cases (first detected in South Africa), 948 B.1.1.7 variant cases (first detected in UK), 157 P.3 variant cases (first detected in the Philippines), and 2 P.1 variant cases (first detected in Brazil).

"The Philippine Genome Center should look for more collaboration with other laboratories to do the sequencing kasi sa tingin ko overwhelmed din ang laboratory na 'yan (because I think these laboratories are also overwhelmed)," he said.

Aside from the Genome Center, the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine have also been involved in the identification of COVID-19 variants in the country.

In February, the DOH said it needs P362 million to fund the country's genome sequencing efforts for the whole year.

The fund will cover a year's worth of supply of reagents or chemicals used in tests, testing kits and other logistical requirements, the agency said.

The Philippine Genome Center Tbudget for this year is P210.2 billion, which is 19.6 percent higher than its 2020 budget.

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