FILE PHOTO (Photo by Arianne Maye D.G. Viri/ The Varsitarian)

WITH THE new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 now in the Philippines and the threat of the emergence of other coronavirus variants, should the country, with now more than 500,000 Covid-19 cases, hit the panic button?

The B117 SARS-CoV-2 variant, also known as the UK variant, was detected from the samples of a male resident in Quezon City, who arrived in the Philippines from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last Jan 7.

The Department of Health and the Philippine Genome Center confirmed on Jan. 13 that the new coronavirus strain, first detected in the United Kingdom (UK), was already in the country.

As of Jan. 23, the UK variant has infected 17 Filipinos.

Medical researchers in the UK have claimed that the new SARS-CoV-2 variant is more infectious than the original. A study from Imperial College London found the variant’s reproduction or R number, a mathematical term that tells the number of people a person with a disease can infect, at between 1.1 and 1.3.

It was higher by between 0.4 and 0.7 than the original variant.

(Infographic by Jan Kristopher T. Esguerra and Christine Angelie P. Orines/ The Varsitarian)

The World Health Organization is also monitoring two other coronavirus variants: one from South Africa called 501Y.V2, which has been detected in 20 countries, and another called P.1 from Brazil.

There is currently no evidence, however, that suggests these variants are more fatal or likely to cause severe illnesses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With these in mind, the public should not be alarmed but remain vigilant and compliant to minimum health standards, a public health expert has urged.

“People should be vigilant, not alarmed with these variants,” Thomasian public health specialist Alvin Rey Flores told the Varsitarian in an interview.

“Based on the latest data regarding the variants, the UK variant particularly is more transmissible but less deadly. The mode of transmission is still the same. The minimum health standards and protocols will still apply,” he added.

Flores also advised the public to boost their immune systems by eating healthy food and exercising regularly.

Why and how do viruses mutate?

The emergence of these new SARS-CoV-2 variants is a result of virus mutations.

Asst. Prof. Jose Francis Abrantes from the UST Department of Biological Sciences said that viruses undergo mutations as they recognize changes happening within their environment. 

“Mutations happen spontaneously in nature. So, the purpose of mutation actually goes into one very important point—survival,” Abrantes, a microbiologist, told the Varsitarian.

There is a stable occurrence of mutations in all coronavirus families, but human activity cannot induce nor worsen these mutations as it depends on the microorganism’s nature, he added.

Scientists are also monitoring these new variants and whether they can affect the efficacy rates of Covid-19 vaccines.

Researchers from Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have found the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to be effective in targeting the common mutation found in the UK and South Africa variants.

The Pfizer vaccine to date is the only Covid-19 vaccine approved for emergency use authorization in the country.

To prevent the spread of new coronavirus variants in the country, the Philippine government has imposed a travel ban covering over 30 countries, including the UK and UAE, which has since been extended until Jan. 31.


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