DOH: Further studies needed to trace coronavirus origin in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31)— Researchers and experts would still need to complete further studies in order to conclude the real origin of the coronavirus infection in the country, the Department of Health said on Monday.

Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said that while the links of the local cases to the three Chinese tourists— the first reported COVID-19 infections in the Philippines— remain “uncertain,” more research is still needed due to the evolving nature of the mysterious disease.

This comes following the publication of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine’s earlier study, which noted that the gene sequence of the Chinese tourists from Wuhan was different from the rest of the local samples that they studied. Sequence data are used to determine how the virus spreads in the community, according to the RITM.

“We all have to understand that this situation is evolving, that nothing is really certain. Because every day, because the virus is novel or new, every day we get new evidences,” Vergeire said in an interview with The Source.

“As we say, and RITM says, whatever results that they have issued with this initial sequencing of the genes is not really conclusive yet as of this point, because they only got a small sample, and it is just focused on a specific area. So we still need further studies,” she added.

Vergeire likewise explained that the RITM earlier issued a disclaimer on its study— saying that only a small sample of positive cases in a specific target area was used.

“Kung appropriate na ang sample, makikita natin kung talagang walang link etong three Chinese individuals doon pa sa ibang kaso natin dito sa country,” she said.

[Translation: If the sample is appropriate, we’ll see if there really is no link between the three Chinese individuals with the other cases here in our country.]

The Philippines reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus in January— a 38-year-old female Chinese national who travelled to the country from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak originated. The following day, the national government ordered to stop the entry of all visitors from China’s Hubei province.

COVID-19 infections in the country have since continued to spike, with the national tally surpassing 217,000 cases as of August 30.

Possible sources

Earlier, the Philippine Genome Center released its own research on the matter and identified three possible main sources of COVID-19 in the country.

These include the following:

- The foreign tourists with travel history to Wuhan whose samples were collected in January;

- Repatriated seafarers from the coronavirus-hit M/V Diamond Princess in Japan whose samples were taken in March;

- Evacuated tourists and overseas Filipino workers who arrived in May from Europe and the Middle East whose samples were collected in June.

The findings, which were based on the analysis of 1,335 SARS-CoV-2 sequences, have not undergone peer review, a process that vets study results.