Philippine Genome Center urges labs to fast track submission of samples amid omicron threat


Posted at Dec 11 2021 09:15 AM

MANILA— The Philippine Genome Center on Saturday urged laboratories accredited by the Department of Health (DOH) to fasttrack the submission of COVID-19 samples, as the country ramped up preparations to ward off the highly transmissible omicron variant. 

In an interview on Teleradyo, PGC Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma said this call to action is so they could screen samples immediately as they have the capacity to sequence 750 weekly. 

Saloma also emphasized that so far, they have not detected the said variant of concern, with the delta variant dominating most of the samples sequenced.

"Ang nangyayari po, ang ating mga laboratoryo, kailangan pa siguro silang mag-double time ng padala ng samples kasi kung minsan, hindi po namin napupuno 'yung 750," Saloma explained. 

(Our laboratories should double time submitting samples because sometimes the 750 slots are not filled.)

"We would like to encourage our efforts as well as our different regions of the country that this is a very important effort of genomic biosurveillance," she said. 

"So kung puwede po from LGUs to the regional epidemiology surveillance units, makipag-ugnayan po tayo sa DOH and magpadala pa po ng samples because we have enough capacity to sequence."

(Maybe it is possible that LGUs coordinate with the DOH so they could send samples because we have enough capacity to sequence.)

The official added that the speed of receiving samples matters because RT-PCR screening in itself is already long. 

"i-RT-PCR sila, mag-positive sila, pag hindi nila ipadala sa amin eh 'di natutulog lang doon sa kanila, so there's certain delay. It is very, very important that [samples are submitted] as soon as possible, [as] this is associated with clusters or increased deaths or admissions," said Saloma. 

(When they undergo RT-PCR testing and become positive and they don't send the samples to us, it's just idle there. So there's a certain delay.)

"Kailangan makipag-ugnayan lahat sa DOH kasi DOH is the one coordinating kung ano 'yung i-sequence natin based on that priority areas or criteria nating ginagawa."

(They should coordinate with the DOH because the DOH is the one saying what to sequence.)

She also noted that the center has received additional funding from the government, which is why they could sequence samples as many as 1,500 weekly, increasing the country's biosurveillance capacity. 

The Philippines earlier banned travelers from South Africa and 13 other countries to prevent the entry of the omicron variant, which has yet to be detected locally. 

The country's neighbors Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore have already reported their first cases of the omicron variant.

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