COVID-19 variants in UK and South Africa not detected in PH, gov't says in new study

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 6) — The Department of Health and the Philippine Genome Center on Wednesday said the new COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom believed to be more contagious has not yet reached the Philippines based on a review of recent samples. Experts said the other variant found in South Africa has also not been detected in the country.

The genome center said it conducted whole genome sequencing on 305 samples from coronavirus patients admitted in hospitals in November and December and inbound travelers who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arriving at the airport. The samples came from patients who are residents of National Capital Region, Baguio City, Calabarzon, and General Santos.

"Given the samples that we analyzed, we were not able to detect this particular lineage (B.1.1.7)... We also did not detect the South African variant in the samples," PGC Executive Director Cynthia Salome said in a media briefing.

She said the most common mutation they have observed is the D614G mutation, which was found in the country in June. The official assured they have the technology to detect the emerging variants.

Hong Kong on Tuesday reported they detected the new UK COVID-19 variant from a passenger who arrived from Manila on December 22. However, Philippine Airlines said the passenger presented a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding the flight.

The Philippines has imposed a travel ban on foreign nationals from at least 21 jurisdictions to prevent the entry of the new variants, but there are no restrictions on outbound travel.

Dr. John Wong, epidemiologist and data analytics adviser for the Inter-Agency Task Force, warned that the country can see nearly 300,000 new coronavirus infections in a month — from the average of 20,000 cases every month — if the UK variant becomes prevalent in the country.