PH to conduct genome sequencing for all COVID-positive arrivals

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2021 01:22 PM

Video courtesy of Department of Health

MANILA — The Department of Health on Friday said all travelers who test positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in the Philippines will undergo genome sequencing to check for new variants.

This after a 29-year-old Filipino who traveled to Dubai tested positive for the new and more transmissible COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom. 

PH to conduct genome sequencing for all COVID-positive arrivals 1
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round blue objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus shown was isolated from a patient in the U.S. Image captured and colorized at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana. Credit: NIAID

“Aside from those restricted countries we are now going to test all of those passengers or incoming travelers na nanggagaling sa lahat ng sulok ng mundo. Pagpasok nila dito they will be swabbed and lahat ng magpo-positive we will now start to test para tayo ay nakakasigurado,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

Genome or gene sequencing is a process that allows scientists to see how a virus has mutated and if it has the new variants based on the samples from COVID-positive patients.

Vergeire said it is unlikely that the Philippines would implement a total travel ban.

“Bakit hindi nagpopropose ng complete travel ban for everybody (Why are we not proposing a complete travel ban for everybody)?” she said. 

“We want to balance health with the economy that we have right now. Hindi talaga feasible for us to do that (That’s really not feasible for us).”

The health official said the strict protocols at the country’s ports of entry, including the genomic biosurveillance would be their safeguard. She said this was why they were able to detect the first Filipino case with the new variant. She also pointed out that none of the other countries are imposing a total travel ban. 

Vergeire added that experts already said that virus mutations and new variants are inevitable because “it’s part of the evolution of the virus.”

“We need to adapt. Just prevent and quickly comply and implement protocols,” she said.

She also reiterated that they can only restrict travelers from countries that have officially announced that they have detected the more infectious variant.

Vergeire said they will not deny Filipinos from entering the country but they will also undergo screening.