Don't panic. The Department of Health said Friday the emergence of a possible new COVID-19 variant in Cebu should be met with vigilance instead of alarm.
Even before the mutations were observed, measures are in place to halt the spread of the coronavirus, officials said. On Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte will decide on a recommendation from the IATF and Metro Manila mayors to place the entire country under MGCQ, the lowest quarantine classification.
Viruses evolve into strains, which could develop variants from mutations. This happens as humans get infected with it, officials had said.
Sars-Cov-2, the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19, has had variants reported around the world — in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.
Here's what we know so far about the possible coronavirus variant in Cebu:
What was found in Cebu?
On Feb. 11, the DOH Central Visayas sent a batch of 60 samples from their cases to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), 59 of which met the criteria for genome sequencing -- a process that traces the virus lineage and observes how it is mutating.
Thirty-seven of the samples were identified to have "two mutations of concern to the global community" namely E484K and N501Y, said PGC Executive Director Cynthia Saloma.
For now, it is classified as a "variant of concern" or "mutations of concern" since it's exact origin is unclear and its implications on public health are yet to be determined, Department of Health Central Visayas spokesperson Dr. Mary Jean Loreche earlier said.
"This could probably be one of the reasons why there was a second spike in Cebu cases," Dr. Junjie Zuasola, head of the DOH Central Visayas Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit, said.
All cases in Central Visayas with two mutations of concern exhibited only mild symptoms, the DOH said. Contact-tracing is underway.
What happens to viruses when they mutate?
It's natural for viruses to mutate, authorities said.
"It doesn’t mean the mutation itself can make something more transmissible, more deadly.. but to be on the safe side, it’s always good to take this seriously, to take precaution," said Dr. Edsel Salvaña Director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at UP.
“The more the virus circulates the more opportunity it has to change and have mutations," said UP National Institutes Of Health Exectuive Director Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco de la Paz.
“We need to sustain biosurveillance and maybe enhance this further so that it may be able to detect these changes in not only one part of the country but in most regions," she said.
What will happen to Cebu quarantines?
Since September of last year, Cebu has been under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ), the lowest in the country's four-step classification system.
This eased movement restrictions during Christmas that has been linked to a post-holiday spike in infections, Duque said.
With a more aggressive Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate (PDITR) strategy in place, health officials said they would have to see if their health care system could handle it, if a more transmissible variant was really at play.
For now, Cebu is still in the "safe zone", said Duque.
MORE ON CEBU:
What about the rest of the country?
No, according to Duque. The situation is different in other parts of the country, particularly Metro Manila.
"Nag MGCQ region 7, tumaas mobility ng mga tao. So kung tumaas mobility, yung contact rate tumaas din," he said.
“Alam natin na mas magluluwag ang ating ekonomiya, mas lalo lang maging maingat ang ating mga kababayan..habang wala pang bakuna," he said.