DOH to monitor new COVID-19 variant reported in Indonesia

April 8 ------ The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday said it will monitor a new variant of coronavirus that has been reported in Indonesia, but stressed that it has not been detected in the Philippines yet. In a media briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH has already discussed the matter with the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) and the UP National Institute of Health (UP-NIH).

Indonesia on Tuesday reported its first case of the variant, which contains the E484K mutation first found in South Africa and Brazil and is nicknamed “Eek” by scientists—due, according to Reuters, to "its apparent ability to evade natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection and to reduce protection offered by current vaccines." “As far as they know, as far as their data will show, from the different genome sequencing that we have done already, wala pa tayong nakikitang ganito [we have not seen anything like this yet],” she said.

Vergeire said there was no recent genome sequencing done by the PGC following a contamination of its machines. For this week, however, the PGC will run a total of 1,500 samples through two of its machines to produce the latest genome sequencing data. So far, the variants of concern are the B.1.1.7, the South Africa variant, and the P.3 variant which is still under investigation, Vergeire said. On Tuesday, the PGC said that variants were in at least 9.9 percent of 4,000 samples it has processed.

On Wednesday, the Philippines’ tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases soared to 819,164 after the Department of Health (DOH) reported 6,414 new infections. The total includes 14,059 deaths. The continuing surge in COVID-19 cases has prompted the government to reimpose the strictest level of lockdown in Metro Manila and four nearby provinces until April 11.