No new COVID variant detected in PH, gene sequencing shows — DOH

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 06 2021 11:25 AM | Updated as of Jan 06 2021 12:11 PM

Screengrab from video from the Philippine Genome Center website

MANILA — The Department of Health on Wednesday said it has not detected the new and more transmissible COVID-19 variant in the Philippines based on results of genome sequencing.

This after reports that a Hong Kong resident who traveled from Manila had tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning to Hong Kong.

“Amid speculations that the UK variant (B.1.1.7) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is already in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) today report that the said variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has not yet been detected in the country,” the DOH said in a statement.

“Based on the lineage analysis through whole genome sequencing done by the PGC, the UK variant was not detected in any of the 305 positive samples submitted to them from nine institutions,” it added, referring to the process that determines distinct characteristics of variants of COVID-19. 

The DOH previously announced that the PGC would gene sequence samples of COVID-positive travelers who had arrived here from the United Kingdom and other countries where the new variant has already spread. 

The DOH said that the 305 samples also included hospital admissions from November to December. 

“Moreover, the Department is in close coordination with Hong Kong’s International Health Regulations focal point to secure official notification and other pertinent information regarding the Hong Kong resident who tested positive for the variant following travel history from the Philippines,” the DOH said.

Reports say that the Hong Kong resident, tagged as Case 9003 there, returned from the Philippines on December 22. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said earlier that the DOH has already asked for the flight manifest. 

The DOH said it already asked local government units and transport regulators to continuously implement health standards.

“Strictly following the minimum public health standards (MPHS) is still the best measure to cut transmission of the variant and minimize the opportunities for virus mutation,” the DOH said.

Before Christmas, the government imposed travel restrictions on the United Kingdom to prevent the spread of the new variant in the Philippines. The travel ban list was expanded to include other countries as more announced detecting the new variant. 

Foreign travelers coming from the following are temporarily prohibited from entering the Philippines: United Kingdom, United States, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Australia, Israel, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Lebanon, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, and Spain. 

Meanwhile, returning Filipinos from these countries will have to undergo a strict 14-day quarantine even with a negative test.