MANILA, May 28 (Mabuhay) — There is now a community transmission of the UK and South Africa variants of the COVID-19 virus in the National Capital Region Plus bubble, the top World Health Organization official in the Philippines has said.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO representative in the country, said that there was reason to believe that there was community transmission of the two variants of concern in the NCR Plus based on evidence and the number of cases.

“In some locations of the Philippines, we will have to accept that there is community level transmission of these variants, the B117 and B1351,” Abeyasinghe said.

Community transmission means there are no longer links between COVID-19 cases carrying the new variants.

Abeyasinghe said that the inability to trace the linkages among cases could also be due to weaknesses in contact tracing.

“With regards to the NCR Plus bubble, we also see multiple number of cases that have been confirmed to be of these two variants of concern,” Abeyasinghe said.

“And these cases have been identified in nearly all of the cities of the NCR and so we tend to believe that there is some degree to community transmission within NCR,” he added.

Abeyasinghe in a text message later clarified that he was referring to the NCR Plus area.

Abeyasinhe said there was a community transmission of the UK variant in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

“We know that the B117 transmission started in the CAR region and it’s quite evident that there is some degree of community transmission there,” Abeyasinhe said.

Abeyasinghe said that with the number of variants of concern that are being identified, “we may have to accept that there is some level of community transmission of these two variants within the Philippines.”

Abeyasinghe said that it was uncertain whether these variants were now the dominant variants in the said areas.

“We have a challenge in the fact that the Philippines has limited capacity for genome sequencing. We have only capacity to do about 700 samples on a weekly basis,” Abeyasinghe said.

“We are engaging with the government to see how we can expand that capacity. With limited capacity, it’s difficult for us to judge exactly how widespread these variants are and how their distribution is,” he added.

Abeyasinghe said that the presence of variants of concern puts the NCR Plus area in a very fragile situation despite the reduction in cases these past few weeks.

He added that the variants could also be a factor in the increasing cases in a number regions outside NCR.

The WHO has also urged the Department of Health to also intensify case finding of India variant cases. The said variant is also linked to increased transmissibility.

The WHO has sent a team of experts to assess the extent of the transmission of the variants of concern in the country. They are working with the DOH and the Philippine Genome Center to improve the country’s genomic biosurveillance.  (MNS)