PH finds six cases of COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa, more cases of UK variant and mutations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2) — The more transmissible COVID-19 variant first discovered in South Africa — which appeared to make some vaccines less effective — has reached the Philippines, the Department of Health confirmed on Tuesday. Cases of variants linked to the United Kingdom and coronavirus patients found with "mutations of interest" also continue to rise.

Six cases of the South Africa variant, called B.1.351, were detected by the Philippine Genome Center when they conducted genome sequencing of the samples from COVID-19 patients. Three cases are considered local cases, two are returning overseas Filipinos, while officials are checking if the other case is local or a returning OFW.

The three local cases were reported as residents of Pasay City, and whose samples were collected between January 27 and February 13, 2021. Two of the local cases, a 61-year-old female and a 39-year-old male, are active cases being managed by Pasay City. The third local case, a 40-year-old male, has already recovered.

On the other hand, the two returning overseas Filipinos arrived in the country from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

South African researchers believe this new variant is around 50% more contagious than the regular COVID-19 strain. It has a different pattern of mutation that causes more physical alterations in the structure of the spike protein compared to the variant first found in the United Kingdom.

South Africa variants and vaccines

Researchers said that one of South Africa variant's mutation, called E484K, appears to affect the receptor binding domain — the part of the spike protein most important for attaching to cells. It could help the virus partly escape the effects of vaccines.

Laboratory studies have suggested that vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna can protect against coronavirus variants, including those linked in South Africa. Novavax has a lower efficacy of 60% when tested in Phase 2 clinical trials in South Africa, where the variant was prevalent, compared to the 89% efficacy rate when tested in Phase 3 trials in Britain.

South Africa paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after preliminary trial data showed it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the variant.

Sinovac, the only vaccine brand currently rolled out in the Philippines, has yet to publish any study linked to its efficacy against variants.

UK variant, mutations

Thirty new cases of the variant from United Kingdom were also recorded in the country. This brings the total number of B.1.1.7 cases in the country to 87. Of the new cases, 20 are Filipinos returning from Middle East, Singapore, and USA; three local cases from the Cordillera Administrative Region; while seven cases are undergoing verification.

Meanwhile, DOH said that two additional samples from Central Visayas were found to have both the N501Y and E484K mutations. Two mutation cases were also delisted, so the tally remains at 34 cases.