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DOH: New virus mutation seems more infectious

The new mutation of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 appears to make it three times more infectious, the Department of Health (DOH) said Tuesday, even as the country's cases of the respiratory disease neared 48,000.

In a press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said: “Mutations do occur with the COVID-19 virus, and this particular one is now more common in the world and seems to be more infectious."

"We are continuing to monitor this development and our scientists are sequencing some of our local viruses as we speak," Vergeire added.

Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a member of the technical advisory group that advises the DOH and Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), said the current variant called "D614G" has increased the infectiousness of the virus.

"There is no evidence it makes it more deadly or virulent. However, it can spread faster and overwhelm our health care system if we don't double our control efforts and so it can lead to a higher number of overall deaths if we do not properly manage the number of infections," Salvaña wrote on Facebook.

Earlier, there was "not enough" evidence yet to back a report by more than 200 scientists who warned the novel coronavirus can spread in tiny airborne particles, which should change pandemic guidelines, the DOH said.

Vergeire told ANC the DOH is “studying all of these articles that are coming out everyday and still there are not enough evidence at this moment to specifically say that it is already airborne." 

"We are still working on that concept that COVID is transmitted via droplet infection," she added. 

Also, Salvana said that while hospitals are aware the virus causing COVID-19 can be airborne, the considered “main mode” of transmission is still through respiratory droplets.

In an interview on GMA’s Unang Hirit, Salvana, who is director of the UP Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, clarified there was actually no disagreement among local health experts whether the virus can be airborne or not, but said they are taking measures in light of this possibility.

Salvana made the statement in response to the calls of hundreds of scientists asking the World Health Organization (WHO) to revise its recommendations about the transmission of the disease.

The WHO said the coronavirus disease spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks.

At least 239 scientists in 32 countries outlined the evidence showing that the novel coronavirus in smaller particles in the air can infect people.

As countries ease their lockdowns, authorities need to recognize the coronavirus can spread through the air far beyond the two meters urged in social distancing guidelines, an international group of 239 scientists said Monday, July 6.

In a comment piece that takes direct aim at WHO for its reluctance to update its advice, researchers recommended new measures including increasing indoor ventilation, installing high-grade air filters and UV lamps, and preventing overcrowding in buildings and transport.

"There is significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets (microdroplets) at short to medium distances (up to several meters, or room scale)," wrote the authors, led by Lidia Morawska of the Queensland University of Technology.

"Hand washing and social distancing are appropriate, but in our view, insufficient to provide protection from virus-carrying respiratory microdroplets released into the air by infected people."

The new paper appears in the Oxford Academic journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

When an infected person breathes, speaks, coughs, or sneezes, they expel droplets of various sizes.

Those above 5-10 micrometers – which is less than the width of a typical human head hair – fall to the ground in seconds and within a meter or two.

Droplets under this size can become suspended in the air in what is called an "aerosol," remaining aloft for several hours and traveling up to tens of meters.

There has been a debate in the scientific community about how infectious microdroplets are in the context of COVID-19. With AFP

Topics: Department of Health , COVID-19 , Maria Rosario Vergeire , Clinical Infectious Diseases , Inter-Agency Task Force , Edsel Salvaña
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