A new, faster-spreading strain of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been detected a flight away in Manila – but Guam's public health agency says there's no reason to believe it has reached the island.
"We're definitely keeping a close watch on this and communicating with the (U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention), but right now, we have no reason to suspect that it's here in Guam," said Janela Carrera, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health and Social Services.
Guam's number of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks has been relatively low, which is uncharacteristic of the new strain, Carrera said, unlike in places such as the United Kingdom, where the new strain is causing the spread of COVID-19 very rapidly.
Public Health is coordinating with the CDC by freezing COVID-19 test samples and sending them to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, to keep an eye out for any presence of the new virus strain on Guam.
The government of Guam also is coordinating with the island's visitor industry to launch COVID-19 testing for arrivals at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport sometime this month, but the specific launch date has yet to be announced.
Hong Kong authorities recently announced that a passenger from Manila who arrived in Hong Kong from the Philippines on Dec. 22 tested positive for the new COVID-19 strain.
Faster-spreading, but not more dangerous
Robert Cyril Bollinger Jr., an expert on SARS-CoV-2, recently co-wrote a report on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website with Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chairman of medicine for Data Integrity and Analytics, that the mutated coronavirus may spread faster from person to person, but does not appear to be more severe.
"Although the mutated coronavirus may spread faster from person to person, it does not appear any more likely to cause severe disease or death: We are not seeing any indication that the new strain is more virulent or dangerous in terms of causing more severe COVID-19 disease,” the report states.
Sulu province in the southern Philippines sealed itself off for an initial two weeks from Dec. 28 to keep out a new COVID-19 variant found in nearby Malaysia.
“This is for securing our shores from the reported COVID-19 strain in Sabah, Malaysia, considering we are so near,” Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan told ANC news channel on Dec. 31, Reuters reported. Sulu is home to more than 900,000 people.
The new strain has raised fears about another wave of lockdown and travel restrictions around the globe if it begins to spread more widely, said Margaret Yang, a strategist at DailyFX, as quoted by Reuters.
Some questions answered
The Johns Hopkins website offered some answers to common questions on the new coronavirus strain, as answered by Bollinger and Ray:
• Question: Is the new COVID-19 strain affecting children more frequently than earlier strains?
Ray said that although experts in areas where the new strain is appearing have found an increased number of cases in children, he notes that the data show that kids are being infected by old strains, as well as the new one. “There is no convincing evidence that this variant has special propensity to infect or cause disease in children. We need to be vigilant in monitoring such shifts, but we can only speculate at this point,” he said.
• Question: Are there additional COVID-19 precautions for the new coronavirus strain?
Bollinger said the new coronavirus strain doesn’t call for any new prevention strategies. “We need to continue doing what we’re doing,” he said.
• Question: Will the COVID-19 vaccine still work on the new strain?
Ray said, “There is no evidence at this point that immune responses driven by current vaccines would not work against this new strain.”
• Question: Regarding new strains of the coronavirus, how concerned should we be?
“As far as this latest strain is concerned, we don’t need to overreact,” Bollinger said. “But, as with any virus, changes are something to be watched, to ensure that testing and vaccines are still effective. The scientists will continue to examine new versions of this coronavirus’ genetic sequencing as it evolves.”