MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH), the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC), and the UP-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) on Sunday confirmed to have detected 18 additional B.1.1.7 or UK variant cases among the 7th batch of 757 samples sequenced by the UP-PGC on February 18.
According to the DOH advisory, the additional number brings the total B.1.1.7 variant cases in the country to 62.
The joint DOH, UP-PGC, and UP-NIH report further said that an additional sample from Region 7 belonging to the last (6th) genome sequencing batch was found to have both N501Y and E484K mutations, while two among the 80 Region 7 samples sequenced in the 7th batch were also found to have both mutations, bringing the total to 34.
Thirteen of the B.1.1.7 cases are Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs) who entered the country between January 3 to 27 and three are from the Cordillera Administrative Region. The other two are still currently being verified if they are local cases or ROFs.
The health department said the 13 ROF cases are now tagged as recovered. The DOH is currently investigating their compliance to isolation protocols and the contact tracing done for them.
Meanwhile, two of the three cases from CAR, both 12-year-old males, are connected to the original cluster from Samoki, Bontoc, Mountain Province. The third case, a 41-year-old female, is connected to the first La Trinidad cluster.
The DOH said, all the cases are now tagged as recovered and all close contacts have completed quarantine following immediate contact tracing and isolation to swiftly contain transmission among the Bontoc and La Trinidad clusters.
Meanwhile, the Center for Health Development Central Visayas has been notified of the additional cases found with mutations and investigation is now underway to aid in curbing transmission.
Case investigation and contact tracing for these new detections have also been jointly initiated by the DOH through the Bureau of Quarantine, Centers for Health Development, and regional epidemiology and surveillance units (RESU).
The DOH said they are in close coordination with concerned LGUs, local health offices, local epidemiology and surveillance units, and law enforcement authorities regarding this development.
The health department said that they, along with the UP-PGC and UP-NIH, are preparing to submit these new findings to the World Health Organization and the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID).
This move is seen to aid in the ongoing global effort to track and study new and emerging genomic changes in the SARS-COV-2 virus, which vaccine manufacturers may use to recalibrate vaccines and ensure efficacy against COVID-19, the DOH said.
The DOH calls on concerned LGUs where cases with the variant of concern and mutations with potential clinical significance have been detected to closely monitor their respective local situations and implement measures in accordance with the national PDITR strategy as needed.
This could be by way of localized lockdowns, active case finding, immediate contact tracing, and isolation/quarantine.
The DOH reiterated to the LGUs the necessity to immediately flag sharp upticks in cases to the DOH in order to activate targeted biosurveillance activities.
The DOH further stressed that “as long as COVID-19 transmission persists, our strengthened biosurveillance will continue to detect mutations.”
“The DOH emphasizes the need to strictly practice and enforce minimum public health standards in order to lower infection rates and consequently reduce the risk of mutations of potential clinical and epidemiological significance. The goal is to bring down transmission rates to levels where biosurveillance can no longer detect mutations of interest,” it concluded. —/mbmf