Sulu province has asked the national government’s help after the apparently more contagious COVID-19 strain was reportedly detected in Sabah, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday.
In a press briefing, Duterte said: “The provincial government of Sulu has called the (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) for assistance following the course that the new strain of COVID-19 has been detected in Sabah, Malaysia."
Sabah is about 29 hours by boat from the Sulu archipelago, Duterte said.
Quoting a newspaper report, Duterte added that Sulu wanted to consult the country's pandemic task force "on how best to handle the emergency situation."
It could not be independently confirmed whether cases of the new COVID-19 strain in Sabah were detected.
Duterte also quelled the public’s fear on the spread of the new coronavirus variant, saying Sulu and the national government are “equipped with the capacity and logistics to put in place and in operation safeguards and preemptive measures.”
"The Sulu task force COVID-19 is calling the public not to panic and to heed advisories from official sources," the President said.
"To our frontline partners, we intensify [the] monitoring, and we utilize all materials and available resources at our disposal to assure our constituents and we reiterate our call to them to avoid speculations and spread fake and harmful mongering," he added.
The Department of Health earlier this week said it has not detected any new strain of the COVID-19 virus in the Philippines, with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reiterating the same in the Saturday briefing.
This prompted Duterte to suspend flights from the United Kingdom to the country starting Dec. 24 until Dec. 31 to prevent the strain from entering the Philippines.
Researchers said most mutations that have arisen in the coronavirus are either harmful to the virus or have no effect one way or another. But several of the mutations in B.1.1.7 looked as if they could potentially affect how the virus spread.
Currently, Japan, France, and Singapore have reported the presence of the new COVID-19 strain in their countries.