The Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH-7) announced on Thursday that two COVID-19 “mutations of concern” have been detected in Cebu.
In a press briefing, DOH-7 spokesperson Dr. Mary Jean Loreche said these mutations — identified as E484K and N501Y — were found in the first batch of samples they sent to the Philippine Genome Center for genomic sequencing. This batch covers the period Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 and contained samples from Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City, and Cebu province.
“Out of 50, there were 37 samples — equivalent to 78% — that had two mutations of concern,” Loreche said. “And out of these again, 29 out of 50 — meaning 58% — had a co-occurrence of the two mutations.”
These mutations are now called “a variant under investigation or a variant of concern,” according to Loreche. She explained there is no name yet, as the entire sequence has yet to be identified.
DOH-7 Regional Director Dr. Jaime Bernadas clarified that this variant of concern still needs further investigation. Both health officials added there is no cause for panic, as they have been able to isolate and contact trace the infected individuals.
“These two mutations of concern are actually of global concern also, so hindi siya sa’tin lang talaga [so it’s not only a local concern],” Loreche explained. “This is of global concern, because apparently these are mutations that are related to increased transmissibility.”
Loreche said while the mutations are said to be more contagious, officials have yet to establish if they are more virulent or can cause a more severe disease.
“But for now, based on our data on rising cases, clustering cases, ayan [there], most likely, this is the cause of the high transmissibility,” she said.
In its latest report, independent research group OCTA noted a spike in cases in a number of areas in Cebu. The group also said Cebu City’s positivity rate over the past week stood at 13%, way above the ideal rate of below 5% as recommended by the World Health Organization.
The DOH-7 has tallied 5,240 active cases in Central Visayas as of Feb. 17. Of the region’s currently ill patients, Cebu City accounts for 2,668, while Cebu province has 1,029.
According to Loreche, they are also awaiting results of the second batch of 90 samples they sent to PGC for genome sequencing.