The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) and the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) have confirmed that the G614 variant of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, has been detected in the Philippines after it was seen in a small sample of positive cases in Quezon City.

The D614G mutation which resulted in the G614 variant of the virus has been reported in many other countries. Reports showed that the G614 variant has almost completely replaced the original D614 virus in most of Europe and the Americas. There is evidence that the mutation makes it easier for the virus to enter its target cell, and may be associated with higher viral loads in infected persons. This likely translates into a higher level of infectivity.

However, PGC emphasized that although this information confirms the presence of G614 in the Philippines, all the samples tested were taken from Quezon City and may not represent the mutational landscape for the whole country.

PGC also highlighted that despite studies suggesting that the said mutation can increase viral rate of transmission, there is still no definitive evidence showing that carriers of the G614 variant are actually more transmissible than those with D614. Mutation does not appear to substantially affect clinical outcomes as well. As of writing, the RITM also noted that there is no conclusive study that would define the impact of the virus mutation, disease severity and the effect to vaccines under development.

Nevertheless, continuous monitoring of the said mutation and other frequently observed mutations must be done in order to better understand the evolutionary trajectory of SARS-CoV-2 to inform containment, diagnostic, and therapeutic strategies.

While it is critical to mitigate transmission within the country to prevent further spread of the virus, there is also a need to strengthen surveillance and control measures at our country’s ports of entry. Previous epidemics and pandemics have shown that mutations in pathogen genomes may generate new viral variants that cause more severe disease or to spread more easily from person to person. By limiting the introduction of new variants into the country, we may not only help reduce the spread of infections, but also prevent new potentially, more virulent and/or infectious variants from coming into the country.

The RITM, in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, is also currently conducting further research study of the SARS-CoV-2 viral genome sequencing. Genome sequencing can provide the data necessary to determine patterns of virus circulation in the country such as information regarding where it came from (lineage or source of infection) and estimates when these were introduced or imported in the country. It can complement contact tracing and identify cases that belong to the same transmission clusters and trace sources of infection. It may also provide essential information for the development of diagnostic tests, therapeutics, and vaccines.

Although this is new information, the DOH emphasizes that regardless of what variant is causing community transmission, the preventive measures to protect the public against contracting COVID-19 are the same. Through strict adherence and proper observance of the BIDA Solusyon strategies, we will be able to stop the disease from further spread.