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DOH starts weekly collection of samples to detect new COVID-19 variants

To ramp up the country's monitoring for the new COVID-19 variants, the Department of Health (DOH) has started its biogenomic surveillance or collection of samples from the vulnerable and at risk sectors that will undergo genome sequencing.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeiresaid in a virtual press briefing on Wednesday, January 13, that the DOH is not just monitoring the United Kingdom variant – believed to be more infectious than the original variant of SARS-CoV2 – but all possible variants of the deadly virus.

"Inuumpisahan na po natin itong tinawatag na genomic biosurveillance kung saan linggo-linggo na po tayong mangongolekta ng mga specimen sa mga sector na vulnerable at identified to be at risk para makita natin kung may nag-dedevelop na bagong variant dito sa bansa," she said.

(We're starting our weekly genomic biosurveillance where we collect samples from the vulnerable sectors to check if there's a new variant developing here.)

Genomic sequencing is the process of analyzing the virus sample taken from a diagnosed patient and comparing it with other cases to see whether those who tested positive for COVID-19 have the new variant. 

The DOH said last week that aside from the UK variant known as B117, it was also monitoring other variants of the virus found in South Africa (501Y.V2) and Malaysia (A701B).

Vergeire earlier explained that that mutations in viruses are normal because they need to adapt to the environment. She added that due to the continued surveillance, new variants are expected to be detected.

Even after a Filipino domestic worker who had been to Manila was found to have the UK variant in Hong Kong, the DOH maintained that this variant has not yet reached the Philippines, based on results of the Philippine Genome Center genome sequencing released last Wednesday, January 6.

Vergeire said that they are expecting the second batch of results of the genome sequencing this week, which includes the close contacts of the Filipina worker. (READ: Close contacts of OFW in Hong Kong with UK COVID-19 variant traced, tested)

Experts on Tuesday said that the government "must further ensure that effective and stricter border controls are in place" to mitigate COVID-19 transmissions, including the possible entry of the more infectious variants of the virus.

The detection of the new variants has pushed countries, including the Philippines, to tighten border restrictions anew as a precaution.

The pandemic has so far infected over 90 million people globally. In the Philippines, a total of 491,258 have been infected with the deadly virus as of Tuesday. Of the total, 9,554 have died, while 458,172 have recovered. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

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