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DOH: COVID-19 ‘variant of concern’ in Cebu City not yet cause for alarm

The detection of a "variant of concern" in Cebu City should not be a cause for alarm just yet as the government is still studying it, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Saturday, February 20.

Vergeire made the statement at the Laging Handa briefing, in response to public concerns raised over the Philippine Genome Center's recent detection of two mutations in COVID-19 samples in Cebu City, identified as E484K and N501Y.

Vergeire said that the DOH is currently monitoring the mutations. “Pero hindi po dapat ikabahala ng ating mga kababayan ito sa ngayon, kasi po pinag-aaralan pa natin ito, tinitignan pa rin po natin kung ito po talaga ay macclassify as variant,” she said.

(But we should not worry about this for now because we are still studying it, we are also checking if this can really be classified as a variant.)

The DOH7 earlier said not to call the mutations “PH variant” yet, but refer to it as a “variant or mutation of concern.” This term means that researchers have not yet identified its exact origin yet or its difference in terms of transmission and intensity compared to foreign variants.

Vergeire said that the mutations detected in Cebu will be submitted to the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine if they should be considered of public health importance.

Ang gagawin natin, isu-submit po natin ito sa WHO for them to classify at mabigyan nila tayo ng direksyon kung talagang itong mga mutations na ito ay maitutukoy na natin doon sa mga variants na existing na ngayon globally,” Vergeire said.

(What we’ll do is we will submit this to WHO for them to classify and give us direction if we can categorize these mutations as among the variants existing globally.)

The health undersecretary said that the local government units in the Central Visayas are currently implementing measures to check the extent of the issue, including “intense contract tracing,” surveillance, collection of samples, isolation of contacts, and screening of borders. She added that officials will conduct a new assessment after a week to see if these measures are effective.

As of Friday, February 19, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Cebu City have reached 15,776. Mandaue City recorded a total of 3,741, while Lapu-Lapu City had 3,625. The rest of the province recorded a total of 9,326 confirmed cases. – Rappler.com

Pauline Macaraeg

Pauline Macaraeg is part of the Rappler Research Team’s fact-checking unit. Aside from debunking dubious claims, she also enjoys crunching data and writing stories about the economy, environment, and media democracy.

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