DOH to monitor coronavirus variants
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) on Monday said it would ramp up surveillance of circulating strains of the new coronavirus after the United Kingdom reported a more infectious variant of COVID-19 agent.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that although the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine had not detected any new circulating variant, it would “further [its] monitoring” to better prepare the country.
“We need to strengthen [surveillance] so that we can identify it if it’s present here,” Vergeire said.
Earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced stricter restrictions in his country after scientists found a more infectious variant of coronavirus, which, he said, “may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the earlier strain.”
Almost immediately, several countries imposed a travel ban on the United Kingdom, including Canada, Italy, Turkey, Switzerland, and Germany.
‘No impact on vaccines’
But according to Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, European Union experts believe existing vaccines against the coronavirus are effective against the new fast-spreading variant identified in Britain.
Spahn told public broadcaster ZDF on Sunday that “according to everything we know so far, [the new strain] has no impact on the vaccines.”
He was referring especially to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is already being administered in countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, and which is on the brink of receiving approval from the European Medicines Agency.
Dr. Mike Ryan, health emergencies chief of the World Health Organization (WHO), said “the question is whether there’s significance in public health terms and certainly looking at this particular variant, it seems to have become more prevalent in the UK.”
“We’ll obviously need to work with our international lab network to see if that variant is becoming more prevalent on an international basis,” he added.
Vergeire said “we are strengthening our measures to prevent the entry of the infection here. That’s why we are on guard at our ports, coupled with the testing and quarantining of all those coming in.”
The DOH also appealed to the public to be patient as the government was trying to firm up deals to secure the country’s vaccine doses.
Vergeire said that while the department understood the anticipation over the rollout of vaccines against COVID-19, people must also take into account the government processes in securing the deals.
“The government is trying to do its best so we could have the vaccines as early as next year. But we also need to abide by the processes of the government so that it will be in order, it’s going to be transparent and according to guidelines,” she said.
Early this month, President Rodrigo Duterte gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to grant an emergency use authorization to manufacturers, but Vergeire said the DOH had yet to receive any application.
She said that even if the government had not yet firmed up deals with any manufacturer, these drug makers could already apply for authorization “as long as they can complete the documentary requirements being asked from them to process their applications.”
Virus case update
On Monday, the DOH logged 1,721 new COVID-19 cases, raising the overall tally to 461,505. Davao City reported the most number of new infections, 151, followed by Quezon City (142), Rizal (85), Laguna (81), and Manila (77).
Another 82 patients have recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of survivors to 429,207.
The death toll, however, rose to 8,957 as 10 more succumbed to the severe respiratory disease.
The recoveries and deaths left the country with 23,341 active cases, of which 82.2 percent were mild, 8.5 percent asymptomatic, 0.34 percent moderate, 3 percent severe and 5.9 percent critical. —WITH A REPORT FROM AFP INQ
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