CONFIRMED Covid-19 specimens from Mindanao will no longer be shipped for confirmatory test for the new variant, as the Philippine Genome Center (PGC)-Mindanao is targeting to start conducting genomic sequencing in Davao Region this June.
PGC-Mindanao Director Dr. Lyre Anni Murao said in a virtual presser on Friday, June 18, that the upcoming operation of the sequencing hub is in response to recent detection of the new Covid-19 variants in some parts of Mindanao and with the current surge of cases in the entire island, especially in Davao City.
Murao said this will decongest the specimens being processed at the main office of PGC in Metro Manila, although she said some specimens will still be sent to Manila.
She said PGC-Mindanao will be catering samples from the entire Mindanao to provide a "wider scope of sequencing" of Covid-19 specimens in the island.
Murao said genomic sequencing allows the identification of the Sars-CoV-2 variant and monitors how it changes over time into new variants. It also aims to study how these changes affect the characteristics of the virus and use this information to better understand how it might impact health.
"We will be able to identify the different variants that are currently circulating in our communities. This will give us an idea of what kind of Sars-Cov-2 viruses do we have right now,” she said during the One Davao on Covid-19 virtual presser.
"Are these like the old original viruses or are they now more transmissible? That means they can spread easily, or do they cause severe diseases, or since vaccination is now rolling out, will we soon have viruses that can escape vaccines," she added.
While there is the contact tracing to curb the spread of the virus and give an idea to the Covid-19 situation, she said there are gaps in it because the information given may not be accurate or some may not be true.
"The beauty of sequencing is that we can also do a similar kind of analysis, but sequences don't lie. The information that we can get from sequences is accurate," Murao said.
Unlike in the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, which can detect the virus, the genomic sequencing can provide in depth knowledge of the virus’ structure.
For the entire project, she said they target to cater all specimens coming from the six regions in Mindanao. She said they already partnered with three labs in the island who submitted their samples.
"Mas maganda na makita ang buong story ng (It would be best to see the whole side of) Mindanao because we know recently that the entire Mindanao experienced this surge," Murao said.
According to the recent report from the Department of Health (DOH), Mindanao has now outpaced the National Capital Region (NCR) in the recent Covid-19 infection.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that Mindanao has contributed 25 percent of new cases in the country in the past few days.
In a previous report, Davao City Health Office acting head Dr. Ashley Lopez said that while this has yet to be confirmed, he suspected that the emergence of the new variants might be one of the factors for the sudden surge of cases in the city.
On the part of PGC-Mindanao, Murao said they do not have any available data to prove this claim but she said there are many factors to consider in analyzing the surge of a certain locality.
Regardless of the new variant, she said breaking the chain of transmission would still depend upon the compliance of the minimum health protocols, and limiting the mobility of the transmission.
The genomic sequencing project is in partnership with Accessible Genomics, which funded the materials needed for genomic sequencing. The project is also in partnership with Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and University of Glasgow.
Murao said the confirmatory reports of the sequencing will be relayed to the RITM and will be relayed to DOH and its regional offices.
PGC-Mindanao was launched in 2019, and was established by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through seed funding to initiate the center.
But Murao said this will be the last year the center will be sourcing its funding from DOST and it is scouting into more sustainable funding in the future.