The Department of Health (DOH), the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC), and the UP-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) today confirm eighteen (18) additional B.1.1.7 variant (UK variant) cases among the 7th batch of 757 samples sequenced by the UP-PGC on February 18, which brings the total B.1.1.7 variant cases in the country to 62.

The DOH, UP-PGC, and UP-NIH further report that an additional sample from Region 7 belonging to the last (6th) genome sequencing batch was found to have both N501Y and E484K mutations, while 2 among the 80 Region 7 samples sequenced in the 7th batch were also found to have both mutations, bringing the total to 34.

Thirteen (13) of the B.1.1.7 cases are Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs) who entered the country between January 3 to 27, 2021. All of these cases are now tagged as recovered and the DOH is currently investigating compliance to isolation protocols and the contact tracing done for these ROFs.

Three (3) other B.1.1.7 cases are from the Cordillera Administrative Region, two (2) of which, both 12 year old males, are connected to the original cluster from Samoki, Bontoc, Mountain Province. The third case, a 41 year-old female, is connected to the first La Trinidad cluster. All 3 cases are now tagged as recovered and all close contacts have completed quarantine following immediate contact tracing and isolation to swiftly contain transmission among the Bontoc and La Trinidad clusters.

On the other hand, two (2) cases are currently being verified if these are local cases or Returning Overseas Filipinos. The DOH shall release additional information once available.

Meanwhile, the Center for Health Development Central Visayas has been notified of the additional cases found with mutations and investigation is now underway to aid in curbing transmission. Case investigation and contact tracing for these new detections have also been jointly initiated by the DOH through the Bureau of Quarantine, Centers for Health Development, and regional epidemiology and surveillance units (RESU), in close coordination with concerned LGUs, local health offices, local epidemiology and surveillance units, and law enforcement authorities.

The DOH, UP-PGC, and UP-NIH are preparing to submit these new findings to the World Health Organization and the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) to aid in the ongoing global effort to track and study new and emerging genomic changes in the SARS-COV-2 virus, which vaccine manufacturers may use to to recalibrate vaccines and ensure efficacy against COVID-19.

The DOH calls on concerned LGUs where cases with the variant of concern and mutations with potential clinical significance have been detected to closely monitor their respective local situations and implement measures in accordance with the national PDITR strategy as needed, such as localized lockdowns, active case finding, immediate contact tracing, and isolation/quarantine. The DOH further calls on LGUs to immediately flag sharp upticks in cases to the DOH in order to activate targeted biosurveillance activities.

The Department reiterates that as long as COVID-19 transmission persists, our strengthened biosurveillance will continue to detect mutations. The DOH emphasizes the need to strictly practice and enforce minimum public health standards in order to lower infection rates and consequently reduce the risk of mutations of potential clinical and epidemiological significance. The goal is to bring down transmission rates to levels where biosurveillance can no longer detect mutations of interest.