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More labs must conduct genome sequencing to detect COVID-19 variant cases —expert

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More laboratories should conduct genome sequencing to detect cases of coronavirus variants, an expert said Thursday.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Rontgene Solante, also a member of the Vaccine Expert Panel, said the country’s sampling for genome sequencing is not yet enough to ascertain the extent of the spread of new variants.

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“‘Yung sampling natin is really very low and siguro ang masasabi ko, I think the Philippine Genome Center should look for more collaboration with other laboratories, i-train for more laboratories to do the sequencing kasi sa tingin ko mukhang overwhelmed din ang agency na ‘yan,” he said in a health department forum.

(Our sampling is really very low and I think the Philippine Genome Center should look for more collaboration with other laboratories, train more laboratories to do the sequencing because I think that agency has also become overwhelmed.)

The PGC samples up to 750 samples weekly. Out of 7,167 samples sequenced so far, 1,075 were positive for the B.1.351 (South Africa) variant, 948 for the B.1.1.7 (United Kingdom), 157 for the P.3 (Philippines), and two for the P.1 (Brazil) variant.

Solante said experts cannot yet say which variant is dominant in the country due to the limited sampling.

“If you only sample 6,000 or 8,000 out of the 1 million positive [cases] medyo mahirap magsabi na ito na yung dominant variant (it’s a little hard to say that this is the dominant variant),” he explained.

The Department of Health previously said the selection of samples for genome sequencing is currently purposive or limited to clusters of COVID-19 cases, individuals with links to other variant cases, and returning overseas Filipinos.

In contrast, other countries sample as much as 20% to 30% of their total positive cases, Solante said.

“To confirm that there is community transmission, the samples should be high enough and wide enough. Talagang kulang pa tayo sa data (We really lack data),” he said. “If this is the trend of the number of samples that we are testing, it will really take time.” -MDM, GMA News

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