The new, more transmissible coronavirus variant first reported in the United Kingdom has been detected in the Philippines, the Health department said Wednesday.
“Following strengthened bio-surveillance and border control efforts, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) today officially confirm the detection of the B.1.1.7. SARS-CoV-2 variant (UK variant) in the country after samples from a Filipino who arrived from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 7 yielded positive genome sequencing results,” the DOH said in a statement.
Reacting to the news, President Rodrigo Duterte said: “There’s a new monster around. I pray to God it’s not more toxic.”
The DOH said the male patient is a resident of Quezon City who left for Dubai for business purposes last Dec. 27 and returned to the Philippines on Jan. 7 via Emirates Flight No. EK 332.
He was immediately swabbed and quarantined in a hotel upon arrival in the country. “The positive test result was released the following day and the patient was referred to a quarantine facility in Quezon City while his samples were sent to PGC for whole genome sequencing,” the DOH said.
According to the agency, he was with his female partner during the trip, but she tested negative for COVID-19. Despite this, she is now under “strict quarantine and monitoring.”
The DOH said the couple did not have any exposure to COVID-19 before their trip. Health Secretary said the man had “no other contacts aside from parents.”
Taiwan reports finding South African strain
Taiwan, which is only 1,205 kilometers from Manila, reported its first imported case of the new mutant coronavirus strain from South Africa.
On Wednesday, Health Minister and Central Epidemic Command Center head Chen Shih-chung announced that a man from Eswatini who had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19 on Jan. 1 had been found to have the South African variant of the virus.
The new strain, identified as B.1.351, is 1.5 times more transmissible than the original version that came out of Wuhan, China in 2019, according to the World Health Organization.
Case No. 813 is an Eswatini man in his 30s who came to Taiwan for work on Dec. 24 of last year. He had submitted negative results of a coronavirus test taken within three days of his flight and went directly to a quarantine facility upon arrival in Taiwan.
Six days later, he began experiencing a headache, runny nose, and nasal congestion. As he had not come in contact with any other persons during his quarantine, there were no contacts listed for his case, Chen told the Taiwan media.
On Wednesday, Chen said that samples of the virus taken from the man had shown to be a match with the South African strain of the virus on Jan. 12.
The Philippines logged Wednesday 1,453 new cases of coronavirus disease 2019, bringing the total to 492,700, as four laboratories failed to submit their data on time, the Department of Health reported.
Top cities and provinces with new cases are Quezon City, 95; Cavite, 66; Manila, 54; Davao City; and Cebu City, 44.
The DOH also reported that there are 24,478 active cases, which is 5 percent of the total number of cases. Of the active cases, 84.9 percent are mild; 6.1 percent are asymptomatic; 5.5 percent are critical; 3 percent are severe; and 0.5 percent are moderate.
The DOH also reported 397 new recoveries, thru the “mass recovery adjustment”, bringing the total recoveries to 458,523, which is 93.1 percent of the total number of cases.
The DOH also reported 146 new fatalities, the highest since September 14. This brings the death toll to 9,699, which is 1.97 percent of the total cases.
The number of daily new cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines has increased during the past days, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Wednesday.
In an interview on GMA Network’s “Unang Hirit,” Vergeire said that one of the factors that caused the rise in the numbers is the return of all testing laboratories to full operations after a break during the holiday season.
“For these past days, the cases have really increased. We will see more than 1,000. And even the other day, there were 2,000. Yesterday [Tuesday], 1,500.),” she said.
Malacañang on Monday said there was a post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases in the country but the situation remained “manageable.”
However, the current data is limited. The clinical symptoms and the impact of the vaccine still need to be confirmed by research.
The OCTA Research Team on Wednesday urged the government to extend for two weeks the country’s travel restrictions on nations with reported cases of a new and more contagious COVID-19 variant.
The Philippines on Tuesday included China, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg, and Oman in the list of countries whose travelers are prohibited from entering the country. The travel ban is effective until Friday.
OCTA Research Team fellow Guido David said the Philippines must enforce strict border control, and monitoring and quarantine of travelers.
“We recommend to extend it...The new variant may have already entered. If it has, there may not be many cases because we might have controlled its entry,” David told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
According to Vergeire, the DOH had to observe the number of daily new cases for a week to determine if there is an increasing trend of infections.
“Maybe about a week more monitoring. We need to look at a seven-day trend before we can really say, conclusively, that the case is really going up here in our country,” she said.
Earlier, the OCTA Research Team warned the government of a possible “significant surge” in new cases in the National Capital Region in the next few weeks after the increased social gatherings during the holidays.
In their latest report, the team said the likelihood of the new coronavirus variant initially detected in the United Kingdom being already present in the Philippines may contribute to the possible surge.
Also, the research team added that “super spreader” events such as the Feast of the Black Nazarene could worsen the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Use of saliva test
Vergeire said the DOH would assess this coming Monday if the COVID-19 saliva test could already be used.
The Philippine Red Cross is still in the process of accomplishing the recommendations of the laboratory expert panel for its study on COVID-19 saliva test, a report of which is set for assessment, Vergeire said.
“For now, they are finishing the said recommendations of our laboratory expert panel to complete the study,” she said in an interview on GMA Network’s “Unang Hirit.”
Vergeire said the DOH has been coordinating with the PRC for the use of the saliva tests in detecting COVID-19 since September.
On Tuesday, the PRC said it is set to conduct COVID-19 saliva tests to over 1,000 health workers in compliance with the DOH’s requirements for the full approval of the new testing method.
Meanwhile, the DOH will wait for results of more trials first before deciding on the vaccination of children with COVID-19 vaccine, Vergeire said on Wednesday.
Vergeire, in an interview on Unang Hirit, said the DOH agreed with the World Health Organization that vaccination of children against COVID-19 still required further research.
“Because in today’s vaccines all over the world, no one has tested children under 16 [years old]),” Vergeire said.
WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe pointed out on Tuesday that the number of children that contracted COVID-19 was very low.
The Philippine Red Cross will help the government in its vaccination effort against COVID-19, PRC chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said Wednesday.
Gordon said the government had a “woeful” record in immunization with its inoculation programs for children averaging 60 percent.
“The Red Cross vaccinates for measles. We help the government and we’re ready to help again. If I don’t get the job I will tell you, Red Cross will help the government in the vaccination effort,” Gordon, also senator, said during an interview with ANC’s Headstart.
“If we’re asked, and definitely we’re going to be asked...Secretary (Carlito) Galvez and Secretary (Vince) Dizon, even Secretary (Francisco) Duque, we have pretty good rapport. It’s only PhilHealth we’re having problems with. We’re ready to vaccinate. We’re ready to help,” said Gordon.
PRC has vaccinated one million of the country’s population last year and it may recruit volunteers to increase vaccination effort, Gordon said.
Sense of normalcy
Filipinos may see some sense of normalcy by 2023 if the country takes a unified front to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, an official leading the immunization effort against the disease said on Wednesday, as the country remained under quarantine nearly a year since it was first imposed.
The mass vaccination against the novel coronavirus requires engaged government agencies and the private sector, “highly committed” local officials, a supportive academe, a well-prepared health care system, and adequately informed communities, said Carlito Galvez Jr, Chief Implementer of the National Task Force on COVID-19.
“It is only through this that we can implement a sustainable immunization program to recover the economy and restore normalcy in the lives of the Filipino people by 2023 through our bayanihan spirit,” he said in a public briefing.
Negotiations with seven manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines have been “successful,” said Galvez, a former military general who is also the country’s inoculation czar.
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