TRAVELERS from Vietnam or with travel history to Vietnam may still enter the Philippines as the government has not imposed any restrictions despite reports of a new Sars-CoV-2 variant that is a hybrid of those found in India and the United Kingdom (UK).

Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, said on Monday, May 31, 2021, that there is no need to panic over this new variant.

“We have to always remember - whatever variant there may be, we are protected if we strictly enforce and comply with health protocols, and we get the vaccine,” Vergeire said.

“There is no need to panic over the reported new variant in Vietnam. Let us just intensify enforcement of health protocols and we will be protected from any of these variants,” she added.

She said they were still waiting for validated information and guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the new variant.

“You have to understand the process. If new mutations are detected, the process is to inform the WHO, which classifies the variants of concern. The WHO said over the weekend that it has not received the full details of the new variant yet,” Vergeire said.

The WHO has, so far, identified four variants of concern: B.1.1.7, which was first detected in the UK; B.1.351, first reported in South Africa; B.1.1.28.1 or P.1, first found in Brazilian travelers; and B.1.617, which was first confirmed in India.

Based on WHO’s definition, a variant of concern is a form of Sars-CoV-2 that has been found to be associated with an increase in transmissibility, an increase in virulence, and a decrease in effectiveness of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

The P.3, or B.1.1.28.3, that was first reported in the Philippines is a variant of interest, which is a version of the virus that has been identified to cause multiple coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases or clusters, or has been detected in multiple countries.

“For now, we still don’t have sufficient evidence for this. We just need to further intensify enforcement of minimum health protocols,” Vergeire said.

These include proper wearing of face masks and face shields in public places, physical distancing, frequent hand washing and improving ventilation in enclosed spaces.

Vietnam’s Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long announced on Saturday the detection of the new variant.

He said lab tests suggested it might spread more easily than other versions of the virus.

Long says the new variant could be responsible for a recent surge in Vietnam, which has spread to 30 of the country’s 63 municipalities and provinces.

Vietnam was initially a standout success in battling the virus. In early May, it had recorded just over 3,100 confirmed cases and 35 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

But in the last few weeks, Vietnam has confirmed more than 3,500 new cases and 12 deaths, increasing the country’s total death toll to 47.

Most of the new transmissions were found in Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, two provinces dense with industrial zones where hundreds of thousands of people work for major companies including Samsung, Canon and Luxshare, a partner in assembling Apple products.

Despite strict health regulations, a company in Bac Giang discovered that one fifth of its 4,800 workers had tested positive for the virus.

In Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest metropolis and home to 9 million, at least 85 people have tested positive as part of a cluster at a Protestant church, the Health Ministry said. Worshippers sang and chanted while sitting close together without wearing proper masks or taking other precautions.

Vietnam has since ordered a nationwide ban on all religious events. In major cities, authorities have banned large gatherings, closed public parks and non-essential business including in-person restaurants, bars, clubs and spas. (Marites Villamor-Ilano with AP)