Editorial: Eek

This much we know about the variants that surfaced in India, now considered the world’s coronavirus epicenter—one is coded B.1.617, a “variant of interest,” the World Health Organization declared. It has several mutations, but two of them stand out: the E484Q and L452R. The former takes the nickname Eek, observed to have a genetic structure as those found in the South African, Brazilian and UK variants. The Eek earned the reputation as an “escape mutation” as it aids the virus to bypass the body’s immune system. Scientists suspect the Eek reduces antibody protection from a previous infection or vaccination.

Earlier, India’s health ministry warned of the Eek as having appeared in 15-20 percent of infections analyzed in the severely struck state of Maharasthra. Today, however, it now hit a 60-percent mark. The variant to this day has appeared in about 18 countries already.

A “variant of interest” label, however, only comes next to “variant of concern,” the tag that the UK, Brazil and South African variants earned for reasons that the latter are more transmissible, virulent and could easily parry the body’s defenses. On the other hand, it has not yet been established whether or not the Eek plays the major role in India’s wildfire, hitting over 300,000 fresh infections by the day. The Khumb Mela at the Ganges or the political rallies could have been super spreaders as well.

Still and all, the case of India, a tragedy illustrated via mass burning of thousands of Covid dead, is a cause of concern, fear even. And definitely so now after our Department of Health reported six travelers from India that have tested positive of Covid-19. They were among the 110 from India who arrived in the country before the April 29 travel ban. The other part of the story even causes more unease as DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said there are still six others in that flight that are still being located, a rather questionable situation considering that the travelers from India were supposed to head directly to a government-accredited quarantine facility upon landing. Why are our authorities now scampering for their whereabouts?

Meanwhile, the specimen samples from the six positives are now at the Philippine Genome Center to see if they carry the Eek variant. That leaves the public holding its breath with two things to watch: the lab results and the whereabouts of the other six who, we suppose, still have to undergo tests as well. If they turn out positive, and worse are Eek carriers, we will have to deploy a fleet of contact tracers galore. Otherwise, we’re in for a dip into our own version of the Ganges.

Not to be overlooked is the latest decision of our local officials to slacken protocol for arriving Filipinos and tourists from abroad.

Lapu-Lapu Mayor Junard Chan is pushing for the city’s reopening for foreign tourists provided they have been fully vaccinated and tested negative at least 72 hours before their flight. The anxiety comes from questions of how the standard protocols can be properly implemented. It’s a valid concern.

Meanwhile, the public at large can continue a culture of caution considering the volatility of our pandemic situation. Other countries have been neck-and-neck in their vaccination race against looming new waves. Some feats successfully reversed a state of resurgence by accelerating its vaccine rollout.

The Philippines, as of the moment, is still on the stage of prioritizing its vulnerable sectors as the supplies come only in trickles, most of which donations yet. But we can only hope and save ourselves by holding on to the usual health rules.