The variant that carries the two mutations of the Covid-19 virus protein in Central Visayas was found to be indigenous to the country.
The so-called Philippine variant, or P.3, was detected in the more than 70 Covid-19 cases with “mutations of clinical concern” that were detected in the region in the past weeks.
Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases’ Task Force on Emerging Variants, said P.3 emerged from the B1128, the most common lineage of SARS-CoV-2 — severe acute respiratory system coronavirus 2 — the virus that causes Covid-19.
B1128 also mutated from P.1 or the Brazilian variant, which is more infectious and could reinfect people previously diagnosed with Covid-19.
A study on P.3, authored by Salvana and other members of the task force and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), is subject to peer review.
In the study, the authors said the new SARS-CoV-2 lineage is characterized by the presence of the E484K, N501Y and P681H mutations in the virus’ spike protein.
“The significance of these mutations, particularly the combination of mutations in the spike and other regions of the viral genome, on the transmissibility, pathogenicity, and immunogenicity of this emergent variant remains to be studied,” the study noted.
Salvana said it remains to be proven if P.3 is more transmissible and can diminish vaccine efficacy.
He added that Cebu province was able to contain the new variant, with the last genomic sequencing data showing stable numbers of those who had been infected with it.
“This confirms that our enhanced public healthcare measures work against any variant, whether imported or homegrown. Genomic surveillance will continue and will keep providing us insights on the emergence and entry of variants of concern,” Salvana said on social media.
In an earlier press briefing, PGC Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma allayed concerns that the P.1 variant had reached the country.
Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco de la Paz of the UP National Institutes of Health added that the B1128 could be considered as the source of the virus, where it came from a common ancestor with a signature mutation.
The discovery of P.3 follows projections that the National Capital Region or Metro Manila can have more than 4,000 new Covid-19 cases if the current reproduction numbers (R0s) continue to hold until the end of the month.
On Friday, 4,578 new cases were recorded, the biggest jump in six months.
The previous single-day record was 4,674 cases on Sept. 14, 2020.
Total cases reached 611,618, and the 52,012 active cases are the highest since Oct. 9,
Recoveries totaled 546,912, and deaths were at 12,694.
In its latest report, Octa Research, an academe-based group that tracks the pandemic in the country, said Metro Manila was averaging 1,546 Covid-19 cases a day over the past week, still lower than the highest seven-day average of 2,690 cases.
Metro Manila’s R0 is at 1.86, which is faster than the current R0 used in its February 17 projections of 1.6.
Quezon City, Manila, Pasay, Makati and Parañaque saw an increase in cases, and Quezon City, Makati and Taguig had critical levels of hospital occupancy.
With the higher reproduction number, Metro Manila could have 4,000 new cases by the end of the month, which could overwhelm the health system not just of the region, but in the provinces around it.
Increases had been noted in Antipolo City and Cainta in Rizal, Bacoor City and Imus City in Cavite, and Sta. Maria in Bulacan.
Octa said Metro Manila government units must continue to enforce localized lockdowns, as well as other restrictions like curfews, border controls, reduced capacity in establishments, limiting social gatherings.
In Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City and Davao City, the number of Covid cases has dropped, while Baguio City saw an increase in cases.
The Department of Health said it cannot assume that the surge in cases was driven by variants, since only 3.5 percent of samples sequenced had the B117 or the United Kingdom variant and 5.5 percent of them had the B1351 or the South African variant.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing on Friday 11 cities in Metro Manila had the UK variant, seven cities have the South African variant and another seven had both variants, based on samples that were genome-sequenced.
The mayors of Metro Manila have agreed on a “unified” curfew to help contain Covid-19 surge.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. said the Metro Manila Council (MMC) agreed to enforce a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for two weeks beginning March 15.
“We will not just impose curfew; this is just one of the tools to stop the spread.… It’s important that we go back to basics,” Abalos said Thursday night after the MMC meeting.
Frontliners, essential workers like those in the food delivery service, and others who work at night are exempted from the curfew, but an ID is needed as a proof, according to Abalos.
MMC Chairman and Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez on Friday said the mayors would seek police assistance in implementing the curfew.
WITH JOHN ERIC MENDOZA