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70 samples up for UK variant sequencing

The Department of Health said yesterday that 70 sample specimens from Covid-19 patients in Cebu were sent to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) for sequencing, to confirm if the B.1.1.7, or the UK variant, is already infecting individuals in Cebu.

Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, DOH-7 chief pathologist, said the samples were submitted Saturday night as part of the bio-surveillance the agency has been conducting following the continuing spike of Covid-19 and the detection of a UK variant in two patients who are from Cebu.

“Even if we only had one confirmed UK variant B.1.1.7 as released last Feb. 5, the probability of the variant being in Cebu is likely. That’s the reason why we conducted the biosurveillance,” Loreche said in a message to the media.

The other person tested positive for the UK variant was from Liloan, northern Cebu but submitted his specimen for the test in Sta. Ana in Manila on Jan. 17, 2021.

She said that “since the one from Liloan who was positive for the variant stayed in Manila and was not accounted for, without history of travel to a restricted country turned out positive, it simply means that there is a local transmission there”.

Loreche, who is also spokesperson for Covid-19 task force in the region, said domestic travelers who are arriving in the Mactan Cebu International Airport are not being tested for Covid-19.

“And with the flights coming in and out from Manila to Cebu, with non-inclusion of these domestic/local travelers from being part of the population for testing upon arrival and not having been considered for the genomic testing, then it can be safely premised that these domestic travelers did also somehow brought it here,” she added.

She, however, said genomic sequencing used to identify strain of the severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus-2 could not be done without passing the criteria, such as being positive with Covid-19, travel history from restricted countries, and the viral load from samples taken from the patients has passed the cycle threshold.

“Genomic sequencing is expensive and takes time too, far longer than the current PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing we have right now. That’s why, we have to set the criteria and category of those that will qualify for their samples to be included in the sequencing,” she said. Loreche said the DOH-7 is hoping that the results of the 70 specimens submitted to PGC will be released within 10 days.*PNA

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