MANILA — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday called for stricter border control to help the Philippines fend off the potentially more infectious Lambda COVID-19 variant.
The Philippines has not yet detected any case of the Lambda variant, which has spread in Peru and 35 Latin American countries, Duque said, citing the results of genome sequencing on some 7,000 samples.
The World Health Organization classifies Lambda as a "variant of interest" because it "shares closely the region of mutation" of the highly transmissible Delta variant, he said.
"Kaya kinakailangan talaga bantayan po natin ito dahil baka biglang maging variant of concern," Duque said in a press briefing.
"Anong gagawin natin? Patuloy na paigtingin ang border control para makasiguro hindi po ito makalusot mula sa ating mga ROFs (returning overseas Filipinos) o OFWs (overseas Filipino workers)," added the official.
(This is why we really need to monitor this, because it might become a variant of concern. What will we do? Border control will be continuously tightened to ensure that the variant will not enter the country through our ROFs or OFWs.)
The Delta variant is twice more infectious than the Alpha variant first reported in the UK, which is a COVID-19 mutation that is 60 percent more contagious than the virus' original strain.
Nineteen cases of the Delta variant, first detected in India, have been tallied in the Philippines, as of Sunday.
The Philippines has suspended the entry of travelers from India and 6 other countries to arrest the spread of the Delta variant.
There is no direct flights to and from the Philippines and Latin America, where the Lambda variant has spread, noted Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque.
"In due course po, we will monitor also the development, and we will act accordingly," he said in the same briefing.
There is no data yet that the Lambda variant reduces protection from vaccines, said Duque.
"Effective ang lahat ng ating mga bakuna thus far," he told the public.
(All our vaccines are effective thus far.)
The Philippines has tallied some 1.4 million coronavirus infections, the second highest tally in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
Authorities aim to vaccinate at least 58 million of the Philippines 110 million people this year to safely reopen the economy.
The Philippines has so far been able to administer 12 million COVID-19 shots.