MANILA (UPDATED) —President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday night said Sulu province has asked the national government’s help after the apparently more contagious COVID-19 strain was detected reportedly in Sabah.
“The provincial government of Sulu has called the (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) for assistance following the course that the new strain of COVID-19 has been detected in Sabah, Malaysia," Duterte said in a press briefing.
Sabah is less than 29 hours by boat from the Sulu archipelago, Duterte said.
Quoting a newspaper report, Duterte added that Sulu wanted to consult the country's pandemic task force "on how best to handle the emergency situation."
COVID-19 strain detected in Sabah not the one in UK
The country's OIC representative to the World Health Organization, during the briefing, said the COVID-19 strain reportedly found in Sabah was not the one originating in United Kingdom.
Dr. Socorro Escalante said the variant found in Sabah was similar to "other mutations" detected in South Africa, Australia, and the Netherlands.
"We have confirmed, as of now, from the information within the WHO that the variant they have identified in Sabah is not the same as the variant in UK," Escalante said.
Thorough risk assessment should be put in place, she added, such as the active monitoring of travelers entering the Philippines.
"We do not yet know what is the significance of this mutation and what are the implications in the public health system," the doctor said.
At the time this story was posted, Japan, France, and Singapore were among those that reported the local presence of the new COVID-19 strain.
Duterte quelled the public’s fear on the spread of the new coronavirus variant, saying Sulu and the national government are “equipped with the capacity and logistics to put in place and in operation safeguards and preemptive measures.”
"The Sulu task force COVID-19 is calling the public not to panic and to heed advisories from official sources," the President said.
"To our frontline partners, we intensify [the] monitoring, and we utilize all materials and available resources at our disposal to assure our constituents and we reiterate our call to them to avoid speculations and spread fake and harmful mongering."
The health department earlier this week said it has not detected any new strain of the COVID-19 virus in the Philippines, with Sec. Francisco Duque III reiterating that in the same briefing Saturday.
This prompted Duterte to suspend flights from the United Kingdom to the country starting Dec. 24 until Dec. 31, to prevent the strain from entering the Philippines.
Researchers said most mutations that have arisen in the coronavirus are either harmful to the virus or have no effect one way or another. But a number of the mutations in B.1.1.7 looked as if they could potentially affect how the virus spread.