Philippines 'intently monitoring' new COVID-19 variant

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 26 2021 03:07 PM

Dennis Malattji takes his coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine while a health worker looks on inside the Transvaco COVID-19 vaccine train, as South Africa's rail company Transnet turned the train into a COVID-19 vaccination center on rails to help the government speed up its vaccine rollout in the country's remote communities, at the Springs train station on the East Rand, South Africa, Aug. 27, 2021. Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters/File 
Dennis Malattji takes his coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine while a health worker looks on inside the Transvaco COVID-19 vaccine train, as South Africa's rail company Transnet turned the train into a COVID-19 vaccination center on rails to help the government speed up its vaccine rollout in the country's remote communities, at the Springs train station on the East Rand, South Africa, Aug. 27, 2021. Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters/File 

 
 Doctors concerned of entry amid eased curbs

MANILA— The Philippines is "intently monitoring" a new COVID-19 variant that might be resistant to vaccines, Malacañang said on Friday, as the country prepared to reopen to foreign tourists. 

This, as a group of doctors expressed concern over its possible entry into the country with eased curbs on international travel and domestic movement. 

Authorities are in "constant communication" with the World Health Organization about the variant in South Africa. Genome sequencing efforts also continue to detect its possible entry in the country, said Palace acting spokesman Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles. 

The variant — called B.1.1.529 — has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations, which are concerning because they could help it evade the body's immune response and make it more transmissible, scientists said this week. 

"We are intently monitoring itong situation na ito (this situation)," Nograles said in a press briefing. 

The presence of virus mutations "doesn’t necessarily translate to real world," said infectious disease expert and government adviser Dr. Edsel Salvaña. 

For instance, a homegrown COVID-19 variant did not become a variant of concern, he said. 

"While nakakabahala iyong presence of certain mutations, hindi automatic na mas nakakamatay ito o mas nata-transmit o bumababa iyong epekto ng ating vaccines," Salvaña said in a televised public briefing. 
 
(While the presence of certain mutations is alarming, it doesn't automatically make variants deadlier or more transmissible, or lowers the effect of our vaccines.) 

Video courtesy of PTV 

 

The discovery of the B.1.1.529 strain, which has more mutations than the highly transmissible Delta variant, has prompted Britain to rush in travel restrictions on South Africa and 5 neighboring countries.

The Philippines, meanwhile, is set to reopen to some vaccinated foreign tourists from Dec. 1 to 15. 

Authorities will "make proper adjustments" if necessary, said Nograles. The immigration bureau said it can implement any possible change in regulations "immediately." 

The bureau has deployed additional personnel ahead of the tourism sector's reopening, and banned officers from filing vacation leaves during the holiday season. The use of e-gates for arriving Filipinos was also resumed to speed up the processing of their documents, said immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval. 

"Handa na po ang BI dito po sa opening ng ating bansa, dito po sa pagpasok ng mga foreign nationals na mga turista," she said. 

(The BI is ready for the opening of our country, the opening to foreign tourists.)

Doctors worried

A group of Filipino doctors, meanwhile, expressed concern over the possible entry of a new COVID-19 variant amid loosened restrictions here.

There is a "big possibility" that the variant can enter the country as many Filipinos abroad would travel for the holidays, said Dr. Maricar Limpin, president of Philippine College of Physicians.

"It raises a lot of concern dahil alam naman natin na marami tayong mga kababayan na nanggagaling from iba't ibang bansa," she told TeleRadyo.

(It raises a lot of concern because we know that many of our fellow Filipinos come from different countries.)

"Ngayong Pasko, nag-uuwian sila. That means we are actually opening our doors to the possibility na makakapasok 'yan sa ating bansa."

(This Christmas, they will be coming home. That means we are actually opening our doors to the possibility that the virus could enter our country.)

"Actually, malaki ang posibilidad na makapasok 'yan sa ating bansa," she added.

(Actually, there is a big possibility it could enter our country.)

— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan and Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News; Reuters 

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