THE designation of the two new coronavirus mutations found in Central Visayas as a new Philippine variant “remains to be seen,” according to the top official of the Philippine Genome Center (PGC).

“(We will probably) know in the next few weeks,” PGC Executive Director Cynthia P. Saloma said in a press conference on Friday.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said this new development is unlikely to affect the planned transition of the country, including the capital Metro Manila, towards more relaxed quarantine rules that will open more economic activities.

Nonetheless, Mr. Duque cautioned that “we have to be careful in the transition,” and appealed to the public to continue following the minimum health requirements such as wearing of face mask and distancing.

The two new SARS-CoV-2 mutations of potential clinical significance were detected in samples sequenced last week from Central Visayas, the Department of Health (DoH) and the PGC confirmed on Thursday.

The new mutations, labelled E484K and N501Y, “exhibited only mild symptoms,” but it is too early to tell whether or not these mutations “will have significant public health implications,” the agencies said in a statement.

The Health department also explained that it is natural for viruses to undergo mutations “as they reproduce, both within the human body and when they are transmitted from one person to another,” but that “not all mutations and variants necessarily cause negative effects.”

Department of Health-Central Visayas Regional Director Jaime S. Bernadas said they immediately met with the mayors of the region upon receiving the news, and requested for a two-week period to strengthen protocols “before easing community quarantine restrictions.”

The DoH reported 1,901 new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases on Friday, bringing the total to 557,058.

The death toll rose by 157 to 11,829, while recoveries increased by 537 to a total of 512,789, it said in a bulletin.

The total number of active cases is now 32,440 or 5.8% of the total cases.

Meanwhile, six duplicates were removed from the total case count, and three of these were reclassified as recoveries and one as death.

Another 120 cases previously marked as recoveries were reclassified as deaths after final validation.

Four laboratories were not able to submit their data to the COVID-19 system. — Bianca Angelica D. Añago