FILIPINO RESEARCHERS said they have found a strain of the novel coronavirus in the country that is said to be more infectious than the one that was first detected in Wuhan, China.
The Philippine Genome Center on Monday said it found the G614 strain in a small sample of positive cases in Quezon City in July.
“Although this information confirms the presence of G614 in the Philippines, we note that all the samples tested were from Quezon City and may not represent the mutational landscape for the whole country,” it said in an Aug. 13 bulletin.
Foreign researchers earlier said the variant has become the dominant strain globally.
The Philippine Genome Center in a statement said it did a whole genome as well as targeted sequencing of the COVID-19 virus in the country.
In a study published in July, the scientific journal Cell said the G614 was now the dominant strain and its mutation could increase the transmission rate.
The study said the strain was associated with higher viral loads in COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) patients and could replicate better.
“There is still no definitive evidence showing that carriers of the G614 variant are actually more transmissible than those with D614, and the mutation does not appear to substantially affect clinical outcomes,” the Philippine Genome Center said.
It added that continuous monitoring must be done to understand the “evolutionary trajectory” of the COVID-19 virus so it could be better contained and treated.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told an online news briefing the Philippine Genome Center had been authorized to continue the study to get more information.
People should observe minimum health standards regardless of what the dominant strain of the virus is in the country, she said.
Filipino scientists are trying to trace the source of the novel coronavirus in the country using genome sequencing to understand the pandemic better.
Genome sequencing involves decoding the genomes that make up an organism’s DNA or RNA, where genetic information is stored.
American and British researchers earlier examined genome samples published on GISAID, an international resource for sharing genome sequences.
In a study of 999 British coronavirus patients, the researchers found that the G614 strain had more viral particles, although this did not change the severity of the disease.
Laboratory experiments also showed that the variant was three to six times more capable of infecting human cells.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 3,314 new coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 164,474.
The death toll rose to 2,681 after 18 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 237 to 112,759, it said in a bulletin.
There were 49,034 active cases, 91.1% of which were mild, 6.5% did not show symptoms, 1% were severe and 1.4% were critical, DoH said.
Of the new cases, 1,918 came from Metro Manila, 274 from Laguna, 219 from Cavite, 118 from Rizal and 105 from Bulacan, it added.
Five of the new deaths came from the Calabarzon region, four each from Central Visayas and Metro Manila, three from Central Luzon, and one each from Northern Mindanao and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
More than 1.9 million people have been tested for the virus, the agency said.
The Health department said the coronavirus death rate in the Philippines was 1.63%, lower than the global rate of 3.49%.
The infection rate was 10.35%, higher than the less than 5% benchmark of the World Health Organization, it said.
It added that the reproduction number of the disease was 0.917 as of July 28, meaning one person can infect one more.
It also takes 9.52 days for cases to double and 13.96 days for deaths to double, according to DoH.
Meanwhile, DoH and East Avenue Medical Center opened a six-story Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Disease that will help manage severe and critical coronavirus patients in the capital region.
Alfonso Nuñez, chief of East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City near the capital, said the center can house as many as 40 patients in the emergency room. The hospital will also have an operating, labor and delivery rooms for COVID-19 patients.
In a separate statement, the Health department said the center would have two intensive care units that can serve as many as 30 critical patients, and has eight to 10 hemodialysis units.
“Ward type rooms and isolation rooms are available to ensure that these patients meet the minimum health standards to prevent further spread of the infection,” it said.
“The new building will also have an infirmary to cater to the needs of the healthcare workers who may inadvertently contract the disease,” it added.
East Avenue Medical Center needs to hire 900 more health workers including medical specialists, nurses and nursing aides, paramedic staff and other support services so it could fully operate, DoH said.
The private sector will provide medical equipment for 50 isolation rooms and 20 ICU beds, while partner agencies will help finish one of the ICU facilities, it said.
The center, built in Quezon City with the help of an inter-agency task force against the coronavirus, was not intended to be an infectious disease center. It was converted into one given the need for more facilities for COVID-19 patients. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas