By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

PHILIPPINE health authorities have detected 18 more people infected with a more contagious coronavirus variant, 16 of whom had since recovered, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

This brought the total cases involving a variant first detected in the United Kingdom to 62, DoH said in a statement on Sunday.

Thirteen of the 18 were returning overseas Filipinos who arrived from Jan. 3 to 27. “All of these cases are now tagged as recovered and the DoH is currently investigating compliance with isolation protocols and the contact-tracing done for these returning overseas Filipinos,” it added, referring to the migrant workers.

Three more patients that had also recovered came from the Cordillera Administrative Region, two of whom were 12-year-old boys connected to the cluster in Samoki, Bontoc in Mountain Province. The other was a 41-year-old woman connected to the cluster in La Trinidad, Benguet.

Close contacts of the three had completed quarantine, the agency said. DoH was still verifying where the two other cases came from.

Meanwhile, DoH said three samples from Central Visayas were found to have both the two coronavirus mutations — N501Y and E484K — bringing the total samples with the mutations to 34.

They will submit their findings on the new mutations to the World Health Organization and Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data to help track and study the genome changes in the virus.

It called on local governments where the mutated variant had been detected to implement preventive, detection, isolation and treatment measures.

DoH on Friday disclosed the detection of mutations of “potential clinical significance” in samples from Central Visayas. It said available data were insufficient to conclude that the mutations found in the local samples would have “significant public health implications.”

It noted that viruses normally mutate as they reproduce, but not all mutations and variants “necessarily cause negative effects.”

DoH reported 1,888 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 561,169. The death toll rose by 20 to 12,088, while recoveries increased by 9,737 to 522,843, it said in a bulletin.

There were 26,238 active cases, 87.3% of which were mild, 6.1% did not show symptoms, 3% were critical, 2.8% were severe and 0.91% were moderate.

The Department of Health said seven duplicates had been removed from the tally, while 12 recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Two laboratories failed to submit their data on Feb. 20.

More than eight million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Feb. 19, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened more than 111.7 million and killed almost 2.5 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

More than 86.8 million people have recovered, it said.