Mutated coronavirus strain found in the Philippines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 17) — The new dominant strain of coronavirus — found by international researchers to be more infectious — was recently detected in the country, Filipino researchers have reported.

The new mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus called G614 has almost completely replaced the first version named D614, making it the most dominant coronavirus strain circulating worldwide. The mutation affects the spike protein or the structure that the virus uses to get into the cells it infects.

Researchers at the Philippine Genome Center reported last week that the mutated strain of coronavirus was found in a small sample of positive cases taken from Quezon City.

When COVID-19 started spreading in the country last March, the D614G variant of the virus showed up in the samples collected by Filipino genome researchers. However, when a new set of research was started in June, both the D614 and the G614 have been detected in a small sample of positive cases from the most populous city in the country.

"Although this information confirms the presence of G614 in the Philippines, we note that all the samples tested were from Quezon City and may not represent the mutational landscape for the whole country," it said in a bulletin released on August 13.

An international team of researchers in July found clear evidence that this new form of the coronavirus is more infectious. A global study published in the journal Cell said the new version seems to multiply faster in the upper respiratory tract — the nose, sinuses and throat  which would explain why it passes around more easily. But the bright side is that patients infected with the new strain of the coronavirus were not more severely affected, according to the study.

The University of the Philippines-backed genome center highlighted the importance of studying and tracking the mutations of the virus in order to create effective containment, diagnostic, and therapeutic strategies.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH allowed the Philippine Genome Center to expand its study to cover a wider area.

Meanwhile, infectious diseases expert Dr. Benjamin Co emphasized the newly discovered G614 coronavirus mutation is "more infectious but not necessarily deadlier."

“The G variant has more spike proteins, so the ability of having more spike proteins makes it now more infectious. But there are two schools of thought on it, one is the gene mutation actually makes it more stable and the other it doesn’t make it more stable which allows the spike proteins to shift,” Co told CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon.

Co assured the newly discovered G614 coronavirus mutation will not affect the quality of COVID-19 vaccines being created by pharmaceutical companies around the world.

The Philippines has a total of 164,474 COVID-19 cases, with 112,759 recoveries and 2,681 deaths. The country has the longest ongoing lockdown worldwide with the entire country's population placed under varying degrees of stay-at-home restrictions for 156 days.