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MANILA/WASHINGTON/GENEVA — The deadlier, double-mutant India variant of COVID-19 has reached the Philippines as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it as a variant of global concern.

The Department of Health confirmed its first two cases of the new COVID-19 variant first detected in pandemic-ravaged India — described as a double mutant and believed to be more transmissible — involving returning overseas Filipinos who have no travel history from India.

DOH officials, however, assured that both patients are now asymptomatic and tagged as recovered as they warned that everyone should step up measures to prevent the possible spread of the virus.

The Philippines has imposed an entry ban until May 14, on inbound passengers who traveled to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to prevent the entry of the B.1617 variant.

At press time, the Philippines recorded 4,842 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the tally to 1,118,359, 53,214 of which were active or currently ill. At least 93% of the active cases have mild symptoms, 2.4% have no symptoms, 1.9% have severe symptoms, 1.4% are critical and 1.23% are moderate.

The death toll climbed to 18,714, or 1.67% of total cases, after 94 more patients lost their lives to the disease. Meanwhile, 8,312 others got better, pushing the recovery number to 1,046,431 or 93.6% of the tally.

Among Filipinos abroad, two more cases were detected, bringing the total to 18,571, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported. One also died while no new recoveries were tallied. The death toll is now 1,161 and the survivor count remained at 11.366, the DFA said.

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 3,319,512 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from various sources.

Globally, 159,593,520 cases of coronavirus have been recordered with the vast majority having recovered.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were India with 4,205 new deaths, followed by Brazil with 2,311 and the United States with 658.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 582,848 deaths from 32,779,153 cases.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 425,540 deaths from 15,282,705 cases, India with 254,197 deaths from 23,340,938 cases, Mexico with 219,323 deaths from 2,368,393 cases, and the United Kingdom with 127,629 deaths from 4,439,691 cases.

Meanwhile, a total of 2,539,693 Filipinos have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine shots, 514,655 of them fully protected with the required two doses, said Health Undersecretary and National Vaccination Operations Center chairperson Myrna Cabotaje.
Among those who have been fully vaccinated, about 355,242 are health services front-liners; 25,070 are senior citizens; and 134,343 are persons with comorbidities.

The B.1617 variant has been under investigation since it was found in India in October 2020 but it was only named a “variant of concern” after some preliminary studies show that it spreads more easily.

WHO technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said the decision was based on the findings of its Virus Evolution Working Group and several other experts based on the genomic sequencing samples from India and other nations that have confirmed cases of the B.1617 variant.

“There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility of B.1617… As such, we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level,” she said.

The WHO defines a “variant of concern” as one found to have increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; increase in virulence; or decrease in effectiveness of public health measures, medicine, or vaccines.

The first India variant case in the Philippines is a 37-year-old seafarer who arrived in the Philippines from Oman on April 10. He tested positive for COVID-19 on April 15 and completed his isolation in a hotel in Metro Manila on April 26. He tested negative after another swab test on May 3. He is now in his hometown in Soccsksargen, the DOH said.

The second patient is a 58-year-old seafarer from the United Arab Emirates who landed in the country on April 19. He isolated in Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga and was tagged as recovered on May 6. He has returned home to the Bicol Region, according to the DOH.

DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Dr. Thea de Guzman said there are no identified close contacts since the two patients were quarantined and isolated from their arrival until their recovery.