December 5, 2022

The Philippine Genome Center said it is premature to say there is an emerging local variant of the SARS-CoV-2 in the Philippines, following the detection of two “mutations of potential clinical significance” in Central Visayas.
“Whether this is an emerging Philippine variant or not, that remains to be seen and probably we will know that in the next few weeks,” PGC Executive Director Cynthia Saloma said in a virtual briefing.
Saloma said an emerging variant is always a possibility in different countries, as she emphasized the importance of increased genomic surveillance.
The Philippines continues to improve its sequencing and is expected to process more samples coming from Cebu and nearby provinces and regions, she added.
The Department of Health Region 7 earlier said the new mutations, coded as E484K and N501Y, could be the reasons for the continued spike of Covid-19 cases in Cebu.
DOH chief epidemiologist Alethea de Guzman, however, said they cannot conclude yet whether these mutations are attributable to the surge.
“Even if we are not yet able to make that conclusion or to answer that question, what’s important is that there are already measures being initiated by the DOH and by our local government unit,” she said.
Saloma said the Philippines’ enhanced bio-surveillance efforts have been in place for quite some time now following an advisory from the World Health Organization after the detection of the more transmissible South African and the B117 or UK variants of SARS-CoV-2.
Saloma, meanwhile, reported all the patients found to have the two concerned mutations have recovered from the disease.
Dr. Edsel Salvana of the DOH-Technical Advisory Group said mutation happens when an “error” occurs during the duplication of the viral RNA.
“These mutations, in isolation, we don’t know what they mean but we know that in combination most especially with what happened in the UK variant, that’s where the problem comes in,” he said,
“So whether this is a new variant or not, we still need to study it further,” he added.
DOH-TAG member and Philippine Society of Microbiology President Marissa Alejandria said SARS-CoV-2 already had almost 4,000 mutations but most are “silent”.
Like other countries, she said the Philippines is currently monitoring for mutations in the virus’ spike protein.
Alejandria, meanwhile, said the mode of transmission is still the same – through droplets – so the same public health measures such as the wearing of masks must be observed to lessen any risk of infection.
Alejandria said mutation is part of a virus’ evolution for them to survive and “the more cases we have then the more opportunities they have to mutate.” – PNA