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Omicron may already be here — PGC

‘The possibility exists but until such time we have a whole genome sequence we can’t say that’

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PHOTOGRAPH BY Rio Leonelle I. Deluvio FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE @tribunephl_rio

While it has yet to detect any case of the Omicron variant, the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) on Saturday, however, did not hide the possibility that the new coronavirus strain may already be in the country.

“So far, we have not detected Omicron from the 18,000 (positive samples) we have sequenced),” PGC Executive Director Dr. Cynthia Saloma said in the Laging Handa public briefing.

However, Saloma noted that it is possible that the new variant may already have entered the country’s borders.

“The possibility exists but until such time we have a whole genome sequence we can’t say that,” she said.

Meanwhile, she said that the samples of the three travelers from South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt had already undergone genomic sequencing to determine whether they have the Omicron variant.

“We already submitted their samples, I think yesterday. So that would be included in the batch that will be processed by the Philippine Genome Center,” she added.

 

Testing capacity

Saloma assured the public that the PGC, which oversees detecting new Covid-19 variants, has enough test kits to conduct whole genome sequencing.

“We have sufficient kits for the rest of the year and also up to the first quarter of next year to conduct a whole genome sequence,” she said.

Earlier, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the country’s bio-surveillance capacity has been doubled as the PGC can now run at least 1,500 samples per week.

Previously, Philippine General Hospital could only accommodate 750 samples per week.

“Aside from that we have sub-national laboratories and satellite genome centers in Visayas and Mindanao and other parts of the country, wherein we are already building their capacity,” Vergeire said.

She said the agency is hoping to expand the genome sequencing process in the said areas before the end of the year.

Earlier this year, President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the allocation of P362 million for the country’s genomic bio-surveillance.

Genome sequencing is used to identify what type of variants infected a Covid-19 patient. It is done by analyzing a sample taken from a diagnosed patient and comparing it with others.

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