THE University of the Philippines - Philippine Genome Center (PGC) targets to double its capacity to conduct whole genome sequencing on coronavirus-positive samples within October 2021, and operationalize its satellite laboratories in the Visayas and Mindanao beginning November 2021.

Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday, October 4, 2021, said training teams from the PGC satellite laboratories located in the UP Visayas and UP Mindanao are scheduled to arrive in Manila this week to complete their training on whole genome sequencing of coronavirus-positive samples.

Vergeire said they have also prepared purchase orders for additional equipment in the two satellite laboratories. Consumables were also being procured.

Other staff hired by DOH for the two laboratories have started reporting.

"The target operationalization is by the middle to end of November, as soon as we are able to train our staff who have been deployed there and as soon as we can complete the equipment and consumables needed by these laboratories," Vergeire said.

At present, the UP-PGC facility in the capital can sequence an average of only 750 a week.

The latest sequencing run that was completed on October 2 involved 749 samples that were collected from April to June 2021, before Delta (B.1.617.2) became the dominant variant found in sequenced samples.

"These are retrospective samples from April to June...that is why the Delta variant has a low number," Vergeire said.

Of the 749 samples, 309 were found to contain the Beta variant (B.1.351), 288 had the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) and 21 had the Delta variant.

These brought the total variant cases in the country to 3,387 for Delta, 3,229 for Beta and 2,847 for Alpha.

A total of 15,652 samples have been sequenced, of which 13,852 or 88.5 percent were found to have lineages.

Among the samples sequenced were 930 samples from returning overseas Filipinos (ROF).

The Delta variant, which is the most infectious among the Sars-CoV-2 variants of concern, has been detected in all 17 regions. Once detected in a region, it becomes the most common variant, Vergeire said.

All regions also have either the Alpha or Beta variant. All the 16 cities and one municipality in the National Capital Region (NCR) also have cases with these variants of concern.

A fourth of the samples sequenced, or 25.18 percent, were from the NCR while 15.6 percent were from Calabarzon.

Detection of more Alpha and Beta variants in March and April 2021 coincided with an increase in cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) that peaked in early April.

The detection of the Delta variant also coincided with a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases in late July until the new peak in early September. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)