The Philippines has detected its first case of the highly contagious coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil, the health department said, as the number of infections surges to the highest level in six months.
A Filipino returning from Brazil tested positive for the P.1 variant after 752 samples were sequenced at the genome centre, the department said in a statement on Saturday.
It reported 59 new infections of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, and 32 cases of the B.1.351 variant discovered in South Africa. This brings cases for those variants to 177 and 90, respectively.
“Correct and consistent adherence to the minimum public health standards will prevent the transmission of these variants,” the department said.
The department also reported 13 cases “with mutations of possible clinical significance”.
The Philippines, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, is battling a renewed surge as it ramps up a vaccination drive that started on March 1.
On Friday, the country reported 4,578 new coronavirus infections, the biggest daily increase in cases in nearly six months.
That brings the total number of confirmed cases to 611,618. The number of deaths reached 12,694, with 87 fatalities added.
The renewed surge in COVID-19 cases has prompted mayors in the capital, Manila, an urban sprawl of 16 cities, to impose an evening curfew until the end of March and remind the public to practise physical distancing.
The latest developments also come as Japanese health officials reported on Friday a new COVID-19 variant in a traveller from the Philippines.
Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) said that the person’s coronavirus sample tested positive for E484K and N501Y mutations.
“The variant is distinct from those first discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, and is thought to pose a similar level of threat,” Kyodo news agency was quoted as saying.