An emerging threat to the Philippines’ initiative to vaccinate at least 70 percent of its 111 million population is percolating in a country 19,305 kilometers away.
That distance takes a day and 48 minutes to travel by plane non-stop from Manila. As proved by experience, Covid-19 had breached time and distance in a jiffy that it took just 30 days for the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern since the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China on New Year’s Eve 2020.
Some countries took precaution at the onset of the coronavirus by declaring lockdowns and initiating tests to curb the spread of Covid-19. Brazil, a country of 214 million people, however, had a lukewarm epidemiological response to the virus that its mask-shunning President Jair Bolsonaro had contracted the respiratory disease, himself.
China has given the Philippines and initial 600,000 of the China-donated CoronaVac vials made by Sinovac Biotech, Ltd. The country will also receive 500,000 jabs from AstraZeneca and 117,000 shots from Pfizer through the Covax.
Now, Brazil is the third country with the highest number of Covid victims, just behind the US (29,526,086 as of yesterday) and India (11,173,572).
What raises a global concern on the 10,796,506 Covid victims in Brazil, however, is that its poor response to the pandemic has created a third variation of the coronavirus after those found in the United Kingdom (also called Kent) and South Africa.
Many of them carry them the latest variation of the virus.
A warning is being raised by Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a molecular biologist who is also an OCTA Research fellow, this early.
“The Brazilian variant is a threat that is just (days) away (from us). We have to be very careful about it,” he said.
The Brazilian variant is both more contagious and lethal than the two earlier variations to emerge stronger out of the thousands of other Covid variants discovered since China had shared the genetic data on the new coronavirus. China let the world know of its genetic makeup 12 days since the Wuhan discovery of the still unknown SARS relative.
Brazil has recorded 261,188 deaths due to Covid, half of that of the US. It has 898,298 active cases, nearly two-hundred times more than Russia 8,318 of whom are presently in critical condition, nearly equal to those in India (8,944).
The country’s Health Ministry registered 75,102 additional cases of coronavirus on Thursday, the most in a single day since July and the second-highest on record.
Bolsonaro’s response was a reprimand to his people to stop “fussing and whining”.
Brazil’s surging second wave and with less than 3.5 percent of Brazil’s population having gotten just one shot of anti-Covid vaccine worries health authorities about the emergence of the new variant from the Amazon region. They said it appears more contagious and more able to reinfect those who have already had Covid-19.
The greater number of viruses, they said, contributes to faster transmission.
“It takes more sick people to cause a variation,” Austriaco said. “When mutation happens, the anti-bodies could not recognize the changing shapes of variants, making them resistant.”
The variant known as P1 has been detected in Canada, the United States, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, Mexico, India, Italy, and the Republic of Korea since its discovery in the Brazilian city of Manaus, in the Amazon jungle, in December last year.
Its presence in China, Croatia, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey is still being verified by the WHO.
To compare, the UK (Kent) variant is more contagious and a little more deadly than the Wuhan-discovered virus. The South African variant, while it is more transmissible, is not deadly to those who contract it.
These strong variants may affect the antibody response. And as more of them emerge, there could be an immediate need to tweak the vaccines available to better match them
This concern comes as the rollout of the vaccines happen in many countries, including in the third world nations like the Philippines which had accepted donated vials from China and the WHO’s Covax facility.
It’s going to be a difficult race towards developing a herd immunity.
As the country guards its ports against the Brazilian variant, 52 new cases of the South Africa variant and 31 additional patients with the United Kingdom variant were detected by the Department of Health (DoH) on Friday.
The country also reported 42 more “mutations of interest”, possible variants still undefined pending further studies.
Two mutations were initially reported in Cebu although it was not clear whether these are part of the “mutations of interest”. But Austriaco also reported new variants found in California and Ohio that are now also monitored by US health authorities.
These new variants were found in the ninth batch of the 350 samples that were studied by the Philippine Genome Center, the DoH said through a statement.
Of the 52 patients that tested positive for the South Africa virus type, also known as B.1.351 variant, 41 have indicative addresses in Metro Manila.
Meanwhile, 11 cases are being verified whether they are local cases or among returning overseas Filipinos, the DoH said.
One patient residing in the capital region, which tested positive for the South Africa variant, has recovered. The remaining 51 patients are active cases and are being managed.
The 52 new cases of the South Africa variant raised the total number of infections in the country to 58. The DoH previously reported six cases — three of which are patients from Pasay City.
31 new UK variant cases
The health department also reported 31 new cases of the United Kingdom variant dubbed as B.1.1.7., 28 of which were detected in Metro Manila. The remaining three cases are being verified whether they are local cases or from among returning overseas Filipinos.
The new cases of the United Kingdom variant raised the nationwide tally to 118.
Among the 188 total cases are the 30 new patients reported by the DoH three days ago.
42 concerning mutations
The country also detected 42 cases with “mutations of potential clinical significance,” based on the review of the Philippine Genome Center.
Of these, 34 have indicative addresses in Central Visayas, six are reportedly from the capital region. The two remaining cases are being verified whether they are local cases or from among returning overseas Filipinos.
The DoH said it is coordinating with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and local government units in the capital region and Central Visayas to “institute measures to contain further transmission of these variants and mutations”.
Meantime, the department urged Filipinos to observe health protocols against Covid-19 “at all times in all settings.”
“The conscious effort of properly wearing a mask and face shield, and observing physical distancing will keep you and everyone around you protected from Covid-19,” the DoH said.