COVID-19

WHO Geneva expert to assist in PH’s response to COVID-19 variants

Sofia Tomacruz
WHO Geneva expert to assist in PH’s response to COVID-19 variants
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire says the genomic biosurveillance expert, along with other WHO experts, will assess the effect of variants and its level of transmission in the country

A biosurveillance expert from the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, is in the Philippines to aid the country’s response to the pandemic, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday, April 5.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters in a press briefing that the expert was expected to stay in the country for at least 1 month to focus on the following:

  • Assessing the impact of variants in the Philippines and its level of transmission in the country 
  • Providing technical assistance and guidance on how variants could be better managed 

“The expert will tell us what we need to improve so we can see the true picture (of the virus’ spread) in our country,” Vergeire said.

Vergeire did not disclose the name of the expert but said the Philippines had requested for assistance from the WHO to know about the effects of COVID-19 variants in the country. She added the UN agency’s genomic biosurveillance expert from Geneva would also be assisted by other experts from the WHO’s country office. 

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Why this matters

The Philippines has seen a steep rise in cases over the past few weeks, with infections at an all-time high since the pandemic started in 2020. 

Among the reasons behind the drastic rise in cases, DOH said, was the presence of more infectious variants first found in the United Kingdom (B117), South Africa (B1351), and Brazil (P1). The increased transmission was also due to increased mobility and lower compliance with health standards as the country opened up its economy.

All three variants of concern have the N501Y mutation, which is linked to increased transmissibility. Meanwhile, the B1351 and P1 variants have the mutation E484K, which may affect vaccine efficacy.

What we know so far about new COVID-19 variant found in PH

What we know so far about new COVID-19 variant found in PH

Aside from the presence of variants of concern, the Philippine Genomic Center (PGC) had also detected a variant called P3 from local samples in the Philippines.

The P3, the PGC said, “carries multiple mutations in the spike protein of the virus that are likely to have functional significance. In particular, the E484K, N501Y, and P681H mutations have been previously associated with known SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and, together with a 3 amino acid deletion at spike positions 141 to 143, have been linked to possible increased transmissibility and immune escape in some studies.”

Health officials said P3 was “not identified as a variant of concern as current available data are insufficient to conclude whether the variant will have significant public health implications.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.