PH monitoring emerging COVID-19 variants

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Metro Manila CNN Philippines, January 9) — Authorities and researchers are on the lookout for the presence of emerging COVID-19 variants, including a new one detected in Philippines' southeast Asian neighbor Malaysia.

Aside from closely monitoring the variant found in United Kingdom that is believed to be 70% more contagious, the Department of Health on Friday said they are also keeping track of the ones from South Africa and Malaysia. The Philippine Genome Center, which conducts whole genome sequencing in samples, is capable of detecting emerging variants, Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

"Sa ngayon mayroon na tayong tatlong variant na binabantaayan... Kapag tinest ang whole genome, lahat ng klase ng variant na maaari nating makita ay nakikita doon. Not because UK variant lang ang binabantayan, UK variant lang (ang makikita)," she said in a briefing.

[Translation: We are now monitoring three variants... When we test the whole genome, we will see all kinds of variants. Not because we are only monitoring the UK variant, it doesn't mean that it's the only variant we will find.]

The genome center reported on Wednesday that no new variants of COVID-19 have been detected in the country based on a review of 305 samples taken in November and December. DOH said this was only the first batch of the review. Researchers will continue its surveillance system to include more samples from Visayas and Mindanao.

Experts warned that cases in the Philippines will increase exponentially once new variants reach the country. Dr. John Wong, founder of the health research institution Epimetrics, said it could result in a 15-fold increase in infections in just a month if it becomes the dominant variant in the country.

Following reports of new COVID-19 variants, the Philippines suspended all flights from the UK beginning December 24, a ban that later included 26 other countries and territories, namely, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, and Brazil. The travel restrictions will last until January 15, but the government's COVID-19 task force will discuss if it needs to be extended. There are no restrictions on outbound travel, but that would depend on the rules of country destinations.