P362-M to boost genome sequencing efforts

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The government has allocated funds to ramp up its bid to check and contain the spread of the far more contagious mutated coronavirus strain.

In a televised public briefing, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nogralez said that the government is dead serious in addressing the possible mutation of the virus from Wuhan, China.

Proving the sincerity of the administration to clamp down on contamination, Nograles said that the government has even allocated P362 million to fund the country’s genome sequencing efforts this year.

Nograles also underscored the importance of genome sequencing to “enable us to understand the evolution of the virus across geographical and time scales, as well as the impact of specific mutations on viral properties, including infectiousness and virulence.”

Nograles said the method would also allow the government to roll out a “more responsive” vaccination program, execute other existing health interventions, and prepare for future pandemics.

The P362-million budget would include a year’s worth of supply of reagents or chemicals used in tests, testing kits, and other logistical requirements, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier said.

The fund would also cover genome sequencing at the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health, and Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

The PGC can review up to 700 samples daily for genome sequencing. So far, the facility is processing about 300 samples from inbound travelers who test positive for COVID-19.

Experts across the globe have been utilizing genome sequencing — or the process of determining genetic material — of the Sars-CoV-2 to track how the virus spreads and behaves.

It is normal for viruses to mutate, which can take the form of single-letter typos in the viral genetic code or deletions or insertions of longer stretches. Most mutations either kill the virus or cause no change in its structure or behavior.

Last month, the Philippines detected cases of a new and more contagious Covid-19 variant dubbed as B117 which was first reported in the United Kingdom.

This prompted authorities to tighten borders and to require all inbound travelers who test positive for COVID-19 to undergo genome sequencing as part of the “heightened surveillance efforts” to prevent the more transmissible variant from spreading locally.

So far, the Philippines has confirmed 17 local cases of variant B.1.1.7, 12 of which were reported in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

To date, experts have detected some 12,700 mutations of Sars-CoV-2. Of these, 398 variants were found to have occurred repeatedly and independently.

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