WHO concerned as global sequencing reports decline by 90 percent

Raphael Bosano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2022 03:33 PM

 A health worker from the home service laboratory Swab Wheels on the Go administers a COVID-19 RT-PCR test in Quezon City on Jan. 17, 2022. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News/File
A health worker from the home service laboratory Swab Wheels on the Go administers a COVID-19 RT-PCR test in Quezon City on Jan. 17, 2022. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The World Health Organization has warned that a global decline in genome sequencing, a surveillance measure against the COVID-19 pandemic, is "making it so much harder to understand how the virus" could be mutating. 

Sequencing enabled the world to rapidly identify SARS-CoV-2 and develop diagnostic tests and other tools for outbreak management, according to the WHO. 

But the number of sequences shared per week has fallen by 90 percent since the beginning of the year, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said late Wednesday. 

"The number of countries sharing sequences has dropped by 75 percent, making it so much harder to understand how the virus might be changing," he said during a WHO briefing. 

"With colder weather approaching in the northern hemisphere and people spending more time indoors, the risks for more intense transmission and hospitalization will only increase in the coming months – not only for COVID-19, but for other diseases including influenza."

The United Nations agency also noted an increase in COVID-19 deaths over the past 4 weeks, with 15,000 fatalities reported around the world in the recent week.

"Fifteen thousand deaths a week is completely unacceptable when we have all the tools to prevent infections and save lives," Tedros said. 

"We’re all tired of this virus, and tired of the pandemic. But the virus is not tired of us."

In the Philippines, the Department of Health confirmed 229 COVID-related deaths from Aug. 8 to 14, the highest in 4 months. But it noted that 98 of the reported deaths occurred in July.

Meanwhile, pandemic monitor OCTA Research observed a downward trend in COVID-19 cases in the National Capital Region. With 847 cases reported by the DOH last Aug. 17, the 7-day average has declined to 1,173 and the reproduction number to 1.03 as of Aug. 14, it said.

"The NCR remains at moderate risk at this time as level of infections remains significant," OCTA research fellow Guido David said in a tweet.

A downward trend is also being observed in Cebu City, OCTA said.

But DOH officer-in-charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier reminded the public to maintain a high level of caution despite observed improvements as these may still be affected by factors like the number of samples being sequenced.

The Philippines has logged over 3.8 million cases of the disease, of which more than 35,000 were active as of Wednesday. The country has seen a decline in active infections in the last 4 days.

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