MANILA – The Philippine government is monitoring the new coronavirus variant B.1.1.529 that already has cases in South Africa, acting Presidential spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Friday.

During the Palace briefing, Nograles said members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and the Department of Health (DOH) are widely aware of the variant described by experts as “heavily mutated”.

"We are monitoring -- intently monitoring -- itong situation na ito. Patuloy pa rin po ang ginagwa nating (We are monitoring -- intently monitoring -- this situation. We continue to conduct our) genomic surveillance on the ground," Nograles said in an interview.

He added the government is constantly exchanging information with the World Health Organization about the possible threat of the newly detected variant.

"We are waiting their advisories kung ito bang variant na ito (if this variant) is considered a variant of interest or a variant of concern," Nograles said.

Dana Krizia Sandoval, spokesperson of the Bureau of Immigration, said in another interview that various systems are in place once the IATF sees the need to adjust the travel restrictions caused by emerging Covid-19 variants.

"Kapag may directive po ang IATF na kailangan pong baguhin, immediately po kaya po nating i-implement and we have the sufficient manpower naman po para tugunan po itong mga pangangailangan na ito (Once the IATF gives its directive to change it, we will immediately implement it and we have sufficient manpower to augment these needs)," she added.

Sandoval said they are strictly enforcing health protocols and social distancing measures in all entry and exit points to make sure that travelers are safe when passing through the immigration area.

In a Bloomberg report published on Friday, scientists believed that the B.1.1.529 variant carries a high number of mutations in its spike protein, which plays a key role in the virus’ entry into cells in the body.

Experts have yet to determine whether the new variant is more transmissible or more lethal than previous ones.

Prof Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, told BBC there was an "unusual constellation of mutations" and that it was "very different" from the other variants that have circulated.

"This variant did surprise us, it has a big jump on evolution [and] many more mutations that we expected," he said, as quoted in an online report.

There have been 77 confirmed cases in Gauteng province, South Africa, four cases in Botswana, and one in Hong Kong linked to a travel from South Africa. (PNA)