THE Department of Health (DOH) wants a six-month buffer stock of reagents needed in its enhanced genomic biosurveillance efforts that will allow it to timely detect the presence of the new variants of the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
In a virtual press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said it will increase its current two to three months worth of supply and procure more reagents for the genome sequencing activities of the Philippine Genome Center (PGC).
Vergeire said the advance purchase is necessary because “the global shortage has affected this process that we have. Our big machine that process 750 samples was put to a stop because we do not have enough reagents.”
Over the weekend, the DOH reported that there is a shortage in reagents for high throughput whole genome sequencing.
This, it said, made the PGC to process only 48, or half of the pending samples, for genome sequencing.
But according to Vergeire, the latest reagents procured by the Philippines is already with the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
“We are fast tracking the release of this reagents from the BOC and, hopefully, we can already start the sequencing for 750 samples again,” said the health official.
The DOH has ordered the enhancement of the PGC’s genomic biosurveillance efforts in the wake of the detection of the 1st United Kingdom variant COVID-19 case in the country.
This has already resulted to the detection of 16 additional UK variant cases in the Philippines.
In the ongoing contact tracing efforts in Bontoc, Mountain Province, Vergeire said they have already found 71 close contacts of the 12 UK variant cases there as being positive for COVID-19.
Of the 71, she said eight are still up for genome sequencing while two have already been cleared for the UK variant.
“Just because you are positive for COVID-19, it doesn’t automatically mean it will be sequenced. It has to meet the PGC standard of cycle threshold (CT) value and the quantity of the specimen to be sequenced,” explained Vergeire.
On the other hand, the DOH reported that 197 of the 410 total close contacts have tested negative for COVID-19.
Another 42 individuals are still waiting for their laboratory test results, while 88 are still up for specimen collection.
The DOH has declared a local transmission of the B.1.1.7 strain in Bontoc, Mt. Province after 12 UK variant cases were detected in the area.
As to the first UK strain patient in the Philippines, the DOH declared that it is already a “closed case”.
This, according to Vergeire, was after all the close contacts of the 29-year old male from Quezon City tested negative for the UK strain.
“All those close contacts have been tested, quarantined, and monitored. The genome sequencing are all negative too,” said the health official.
Add to this, she said, is the absence of any linkages between the index case in the country and the 16 other UK variant cases.
“This is already a close case when it comes to contact tracing,” said Vergeire.
Last month, the index patient tested positive for COVID-19, as well as for the UK variant, upon his arrival from Dubai.