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Local experts study Indian coronavirus variant, mull ban on travelers from India

Local experts study Indian coronavirus variant, mull ban on travelers from India

MANILA, Philippines — Local experts are studying the COVID-19 variant that has contributed to a huge surge of infections in India, the Department of Health said Monday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also said the DOH and the Department of Foreign Affairs are discussing the possibility of imposing a ban on travelers from the South Asian nation.

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“They’re just waiting for the recommendation of DOH, together with our experts,” Vergeire said in a briefing.

In a separate briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said authorities will study the possible ban but he pointed out there are no direct flights from India. However, there are airlines that operate flights from India to Manila and vice versa.

The country’s ban on the entry of most foreign nationals has been extended until the end of the month.

B.1.617

India is grappling with a worsening COVID-19 crisis, recording 349,691 new infection and 2,767 deaths on Sunday—the highest since the start of the pandemic.

The variant called B.1.617 is prevalent in India, and experts worry that the COVID-19 surge there is being at least partly driven by the emergence of the virus variant. It contains two genetic mutation: E484Q and L452R.

The E484K mutation may help the virus dodge some kinds of antibodies, while the L452R mutation is widespread in California, but not yet shown to be more contagious.

B.1.617 has been categorized by the World Health Organization as a “variant of interest.” According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a variant of interest might require enhanced sequence surveillance or epidemiological investigations to assess its transmissibility, severity of disease and whether currently authorized vaccines offer protection.

Other variants detected in the United Kingdom (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351), and Brazil (P.1) have been tagged as “variants of concern” because they are more contagious or might reduce antibody efficacy. The three variants are present in the Philippines.

Vergeire said the country has not yet detected the presence of B.1.617 based on the genomic sequencing of over 5,000 samples. — Gaea Katreena Cabico with report from Agence France-Presse

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