MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday detected 10 more cases of the COVID-19 variant first detected in India, and additional infections from other variants.
The country now has 12 confirmed cases of the B.1.617 variant. Of the newly detected cases, 9 carriers were seafarers of the MV Athens Bridge.
In a statement, the health department said 4 of them are still hospitalized but in stable condition, while the 5 crew members of the ship are in an isolation facility.
One of the newest cases of the variant was also from a seafarer who came from Belgium, according to the agency.
He supposedly left Belgium and flew to Manila via the United Arab Emirates. He arrived in the country on April 24 and completed his isolation period on May 13.
"The latest sequencing run included the samples from the crew members of the MV Athens Bridge, returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) with relevant travel history, and deceased severe or critical COVID-19 cases," said the DOH in a statement.
The MV Athens Bridge made emergency contact in the country last week for medical evacuation, as 12 of the 21 people aboard the ship tested positive for the virus.
The ship had a two-day port stop in India where the disease has scored record-breaking deaths and infection rates.
DOH this week reported the first 2 cases of the said variant.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday approved the easing of some coronavirus restrictions in the capital and nearby provinces, with daily COVID-19 infections well down from a peak nearly 2 months ago.
On the same day, the government extended and expanded the travel restrictions on travelers from India until the end of the month to halt the spread of the variant from the said country.
The travelers from Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were also included in the latest travel ban, joining Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The WHO said the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19 first found in India last October seemed to be transmitting more easily.
The India variant was cited as “double mutant” because of the presence of two notable mutations in the spike protein of the virus, which are said to allow the virus to easily gain entry into the human body and multiply faster.
B.1.617 has several mutations, including the E484Q and L452R.
The first notable mutation, E484Q, which is similar to E484K (called "Eek") has been dubbed an "escape mutation" as scientists said it helps the virus get past the body's immune system.
The other notable mutation, L452R, was found by a Californian study to be an efficient spreader.
OTHER VARIANT CASES
The health department also reported 13 more cases of the UK variant (B.1.17), 7 new cases of the South African variant (B.1.351), and a case of the P.3 variant first detected in the country.
Of the 13 UK variant cases, 3 were returning overseas Filipinos while 10 were local cases.
According to the agency, 1 patient died while 12 already recovered from the disease.
SOUTH AFRICAN VARIANT
Meanwhile, 2 cases of the South African variant were ROFs, 2 were local cases, while 3 are "currently being verified if they are local or ROF cases."
Two of the carriers with the variant are still considered active infections, one has died, while 4 already recovered.
The additional case of the P.3 variant, first detected in the country, was a local case from Zamboanga Peninsula.
The case died on Feb. 28.
DOH has yet to release the latest detailed tally on the said COVID-19 variants.
On Saturday, the country passed 19,000 deaths due to COVID-19, while the total confirmed cases reached 1.138 million.
Remaining active infections are currently at over 56,000.
The Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
— with a report from Reuters