New P.3 variant 'possible'; cases being verified - DOH

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THE Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH 7) on Monday, March 15, 2021, acknowledged that a new variant of Sars-CoV-2 may have developed in the region, but said it was still verifying whether all reported 67 cases with the mutations could be classified under this new form of the virus.

Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, spokesperson of DOH 7, said they have the details of each of the 67 cases. However, they need to inform the local government units (LGUs) concerned before they could release the data to the public.

As announced by the DOH central office and the UP Philippine Genome Center (PGC) on Saturday, March 13, the mutations that were earlier detected mostly in coronavirus-positive samples from Central Visayas have been assigned to the P.3 variant.

This new variant belongs to the B.1.1.28 lineage along with the P.1 variant, a form of the virus that was detected first in travelers from Brazil in Japan.

The PGC said the new P.3 variant contains the mutations E484K, N501Y, P681H and LGV 141-143, which are “likely to have functional significance.”

Some studies have linked these mutations to “possible increased transmissibility and immune escape,” but the PGC said further studies were needed.

The PGC said there were 98 cases of the P.3 variant in the Philippines as of Saturday.

Of the 98, Loreche said 67 were from Central Visayas.

But she said they still have to verify whether all the 67 cases have all the mutations that the P.3 variant contains.

As of Monday, she said they would rather call the 67 cases as “possible P.3.”

Loreche said they have presented the findings of the UP Philippine Genome Center to the local chief executives of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu cities.

They have yet to present these to Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia.

Loreche said they hope to come up with a uniform protocol for testing and quarantine in the province and tri-cities.

“We have sent out (a) letter already regarding our request for the protocol in terms of testing and quarantine,” she said.

She said most of the cases were detected in Central Visayas because of the local officials’ proactive and aggressive bio-surveillance activities.

She said they sent a total of 361 samples from Feb. 6 to 16 to the PGC for genome sequencing. Only a minimal number did not qualify.

Loreche also declined to blame the spike in coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases in Central Visayas solely to the possible P.3 variant.

She said other factors must be considered such as mobility of the people as well as aggressive contact tracing and testing.

Loreche said the announcement of a P.3 variant in the region should not be a cause for alarm, but should be seen as a wake-up call for strict adherence to minimum public health standards.

“It is not the government’s work anymore for us to win this fight. It is our individual commitment to be able to contain our transmission,” she said.

She said capable management of the cases is also important.

“There will be a lot of variants that will be coming out. Our role here is to contain the transmission, to control the spread so that we wouldn’t be swamped with a lot more variants that can be actually problematic in terms of increasing illness, there will be more people infected and it will impact on our vaccination program,” said Loreche.

She was optimistic that cases will plateau in the next seven to 10 days.

As of Monday, only 51.6 percent of the beds and ventilators set aside for Covid-19 patients in private hospitals in Cebu City were in use, placing the city within the safe zone in terms of healthcare utilization.

Of the 843 beds, 435 beds were occupied and 408 were available.

In the Temporary Treatment and Monitoring Facilities (TTMFs) in Cebu City, 770 of the 1,142 beds were occupied and 372 were still available.

In Cebu City hospitals, 41 Covid-19 patients are asymptomatic, 126 have mild symptoms, 116 have moderate symptoms, 40 are severe cases and 12 are critical.

There are 1,053 Covid-19 asymptomatic and mild cases in TTMFs in Lapu-Lapu City while 59 patients are in the hospitals. Of the 59, 20 are mild cases, 35 are moderate, three severe and one critical. (KFD)