Unique COVID-19 variant in PH a possibility, expert says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 26) — An official from the Philippine Genome Center said Tuesday the Philippines could have its own COVID-19 variant — similar to the unique variants first found in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil — if the coronavirus infections in the country continue to rise.

"We know that the possibility of a local variant is there," PGC Executive Director Cynthia Saloma told CNN Philippines.

The genome center conducts genome sequencing using samples from COVID-19 patients to detect if they have the new COVID-19 variant. It has detected at least 17 cases of the UK variant in the country since Jan. 13. Health officials confirmed local transmission in Bontoc, Mt. Province after 12 residents were found with the variant.

RELATED: 34 contacts of UK variant cases in Bontoc positive for COVID-19

Saloma stressed that the emergence of a local variant can be prevented if the country can bring down its new coronavirus infections.

"That's why it's important to lower the cases because the more hosts there are, the higher the possibility of the virus mutating in the host. So without a host, the virus cannot mutate," she said.

Scientists have found evidence that the new variants first detected in different parts of the world are more transmissible. Experts said the UK variant, also called B.1.1.7, spreads up to 70% quicker than other variants. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that while data is not conclusive, "there is some evidence that the new variant may be associated with a higher degree of mortality."

The country’s COVID-19 case tally reached 514,996 on Monday, after 1,581 more people nationwide contracted the disease. The death toll also struck 10,292.