MANILA, Philippines – The B.1.617 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant first detected in India has been found in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed Tuesday.
The DOH said the two cases found with the said variant are two male overseas Filipino workers. One patient is a 37-year old male who arrived from Oman on April 10, while the other is a 58-year old male who came from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on April 19.
According to DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Alethea de Guzman, the patients have already been tagged as recovered and released from quarantine after they tested negative for the virus.
“Yung ating dalawang kaso po have already been tagged as recovered and as mentioned, they are currently asymptomatic,” De Guzman said during an online briefing.
“It’s been more than 2 weeks for one, and almost a month mula nang unang arrival ng isang kaso natin. Yung unang kasong nabanggit natin na nasa region 12 na po ay nag-test negative na po on their repeat PCR,” she added.
There were no listed close contacts of the two cases, De Guzman said.
“Dahil ang ating mga kaso naman pagdating ay nailagay na sa quarantine tapos nilipat sa isang isolation facility mula nang mag-test positive, wala po tayong na-detect na close contacts,” she said.
The two patients also had no travel history to India based on their information, De Guzman added.
The B.1.617 variant was first detected in India last October 2020 and is currently found in 46 countries, according to the global genome database (GISAID).
De Guzman said this variant has at least 15 different mutations, with two mutations of significance in the spike region – L452R and E484Q.
Health experts said that the mutation L452R has been associated with increased transmissibility and reduced antibody neutralization, which means that this may help the virus evade antibodies in recovered or vaccinated individuals.
The mutation E484Q, meanwhile, can increase the virus’ binding capacity to the ACE2 receptor and may help the virus escape immune response.
“Further studies are necessary to understand the transmissibility, infectivity, and effect on vaccine efficacy of the B.1.617 variant,” experts said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday classified the B.1.617 variant as a “variant of concern at the global level.” This is the fourth coronavirus variant to be classified as such, joining the B.1.1.7 (United Kingdom), B.1.351 (South Africa), and P.1 (Brazil) variants.
The WHO defines a variant of concern as more contagious than the original form, hard to control or they lead to more severe illness.
The B.1.617 variant contains mutations linked to increase transmissibility, and immune escape.
The Philippines has implemented a 15-day travel restriction until May 14 on inbound passengers from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
The DOH called on local authorities to implement stricter border control to prevent a local transmission of the said variant.