A “VARIANT under investigation” was discovered in the first batch of samples the Department of Health (DOH) 7 sent to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) for genomic biosurveillance.
The DOH 7 had sent 70 samples that were collected between Dec. 30, 2020 and Jan. 2, 2021 after Cebu experienced a rapid rise in the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases.
However, only 59 passed the PGC’s final criteria for testing.
The samples were collected from the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu and Cebu Province.
DOH 7 spokesperson Dr. Mary Jean Loreche said all the samples tested negative for the UK B.1.1.7 variant.
Loreche said 37 samples had two “mutations of concern” —E484K and N501Y — while 29 samples had a co-occurence of the two mutations and these are what they call a “variant under investigation” or a “variant of concern.”
According to Loreche, a “variant” means there are mutations in the genetic sequence of a virus like Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
“There is no name yet because they have not identified the actual, the entire sequence. That’s the problem here. So that means this is considered a ‘variant under investigation,’” she said.
DOH 7 Director Dr. Jaime Bernadas said the latest finding is an initial report from an epidemiological investigation and surveillance.
It still needs further surveillance and additional studies to establish the particular variant and whether to name this variant later on, he said.
“Regarding the variants, actually, we have already done what is necessary to contain them after being tested positive for Covid Sars-CoV-2. In fact, most of them are already reported as recovered,” he said.
“What we intend to do further is for everyone to be aware that the virus can mutate. The virus can change its characteristics whether it becomes more pathogenic or more virulent. It
depends on how the virus adapts to its environment,” he added.
The health official said the most critical thing to do is to stop the transmission of the virus as the virus dies if it does not get a new host.
He also called on the public to do their part by protecting themselves using prescribed minimum health protocols.
Loreche said they sent a second batch of samples for genomic sequencing to PGC. These include a total of 91 samples: 60 samples from the community and hospitals cared for by the DOH-Cebu Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory, six from returning overseas Filipino workers, one from an admitted patient, and 24 from Bohol (all community samples.)
She said they are still waiting for the results.
As of Wednesday, Feb. 17, DOH 7 records showed that Cebu City had 2,668 active cases of which 2,399 were asymptomatic, 124 were mild cases, 93 were moderate cases, 44 were severe cases and eight were critically ill.
Loreche said the critical care utilization rate of private hospitals in Cebu is 45.1 percent and is still in the safe zone, or below the 60 percent threshold.
Of the 903 beds allocated for Covid-19 patients, only 407 are occupied, she said. (WBS)