In a statement, the DOH said the new cases brought the total number of UK variant (B.1.1.7) cases in the country to 62.
The DOH also reported that local mutations N501Y and E484K were both present in 29 of 50 samples taken from Region 7 (Central Visayas).
Thirteen of the B.1.1.7 cases were from returning overseas Filipino workers who entered the country between Jan. 3 and Jan. 27, 2021. All of these cases are now tagged as recovered and the DOH is investigating compliance with o isolation protocols and the contact tracing done for these cases.
Three other B.1.1.7 cases are from the Cordillera Administrative Region, two of which, both 12-year-old males, are connected to the original cluster from Samoki, Bontoc, Mountain Province. The third case, a 41-year-old female, is connected to the first La Trinidad cluster. All three cases are now tagged as recovered and all close contacts have completed quarantine following immediate contact tracing and isolation to swiftly contain transmission among the Bontoc and La Trinidad clusters.
On the other hand, two cases are currently being verified if these are local cases or returning overseas Filipinos.
Meanwhile, the Center for Health Development Central Visayas has been notified of the additional cases found with mutations and an investigation is now underway to aid in curbing transmission.
Case investigation and contact tracing for these new detections have also been jointly initiated by the DOH through the Bureau of Quarantine, Centers for Health Development, and regional epidemiology and surveillance units (RESU), in close coordination with concerned LGUs, local health offices, local epidemiology and surveillance units, and law enforcement authorities.
The DOH, UP-PGC, and UP-NIH are preparing to submit these new findings to the World Health Organization and the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) to aid in the ongoing global effort to track and study new and emerging genomic changes in the SARS-COV-2 virus, which vaccine manufacturers may use to to recalibrate vaccines and ensure efficacy against COVID-19.
The DOH said Saturday it was not ruling out the possibility that the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Central Visayas could have been caused by the two recently detected “mutations of concern.”
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the recently detected mutations were most probably a factor in the increase in the number of cases in Cebu.
On Friday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it was still difficult to attribute the rising COVID-19 cases in the region to the new coronavirus mutations.
DOH Region 7 on Thursday said the mutations E484K and N501Y were detected in 37 of 50 samples from Cebu that were sequenced by the Philippine Genome Center. Of these, 29 cases had both mutations.
In their latest report, OCTA Research said the number of new cases in Cebu City rose by 30 percent from the previous week to 123 new infections daily from Feb. 1 to 7.
Meanwhile, the positivity rates in Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu remained above 10 percent. The World Health Organization’s benchmark is 5 percent or lower.
Last week, the DOH Epidemiology Bureau noted a “steep” uptick of COVID-19 infections in Cebu province and the cities of Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, and Mandaue but said the increase was not translating to a high healthcare utilization rate.
While the mutations could not be ruled out as a possible cause in the rise of cases in the region, Vergeire said that other factors such as Cebu’s shift to a modified general community quarantine could be a culprit.
“They have eased their restrictions. That might be a factor as well,” she said.
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