MANILA - The Philippines will know in the next 2 weeks if a highly infectious new coronavirus variant that surfaced in the United Kingdom is already in the country, a health expert said Wednesday.
Dr. Cynthia Saloma, executive director of the Philippine Genome Center, said they were checking samples of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in November and December and recent travelers who tested positive for the virus.
"Siguro 'yong definite na maisasagot ko is probably middle of January or first week of January ay malalaman natin kung meron tayo o wala," she told Teleradyo.
(We will know the results probably in the middle of January or first week of January.)
Saloma warned the public to brace for the possible entry of the mutated coronavirus, which scientists have said is 70 percent more transmissible.
"Sa palagay ko, itong virus papasok at papasok ito sa ating bansa. Kailangan lang po na pag-igihan natin ang border controls para hindi tayo ma-overwhelm," she said.
(I believe this virus [variant] will enter the country. We just need to intensify our border controls so we will not be overwhelmed.)
The Philippine government has blocked visitors with recent travel history to the United Kingdom and 19 other countries and territories to prevent the spread of the coronavirus variant.
The variant is referred to as SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01 (Variant Under Investigation, year 2020, month 12, variant 01). It is also called B.1.1.7.
Saloma said the B.1.17 had acquired 17 mutations all at once, and one mutation occurred on the virus' spike protein, which it uses to attach onto human cells.
"Sinasabing highly infectious siya pero hindi highly virulent. Hindi severe ang symptoms na nakikita nila," she said.
(It's been said that the variant is highly infectious but not highly virulent. It doesn't cause severe symptoms.)
As of Wednesday morning, there is still no reported case of the new coronavirus variant in the Philippines.