Girlfriend, mom of PH’s first case of new COVID-19 variant test positive

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 20 2021 03:09 PM | Updated as of Jan 20 2021 03:24 PM

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MANILA — The girlfriend and mother of the man confirmed to be the first case of the new COVID-19 variant in the Philippines tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Health said Wednesday.

The DOH identified the first new variant case last week as a 29-year-old man from Quezon City who traveled to Dubai on Dec. 27 and returned to the Philippines on Jan. 7. It is not yet confirmed whether his girlfriend, who had tested negative upon arrival from their Dubai trip, and mother also contracted the new variant. 

The positive result came following a re-swab of the girlfriend, while the mother tested positive on her initial swab. They are among contacts of "patient zero" who were traced and tested for COVID-19, with a total of 11 testing positive. 

Their test results are being validated to check for the new variant.

According to Dr. Rolly Cruz, head of the City Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance Unit of Quezon City, the girlfriend stayed in isolation in a separate apartment after she initially tested negative. 

In a phone call, he told ABS-CBN News that this was part of the city's protocol and that the woman was even escorted by the barangay response team. With both the man and his girlfriend in isolation, the CESU is still investigating how the mother was infected with COVID-19.

Asked how it was possible that the girlfriend tested negative upon arriving in the Philippines, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said it is possible that the virus was still incubating when she was swabbed at the airport.

She said this is why timing is important to factor in when testing people.

Besides the girlfriend and the mother, 9 other contacts also tested positive for COVID-19. Eight of them were fellow passengers of the case in the flight that returned to Manila on January 7.

Vergeire said of the 159 fellow passengers on that flight, 153 have already been contacted and are already in isolation besides being re-tested for COVID. There are 6 that have not yet responded although she said two of them were found this morning.

The health official explained that the samples of the 8 passengers showed a cycle threshold (CT) value of more than 30, which means their viral load is low and that they do not have sufficient viral load to be tested by the Philippine Genome Center. Despite this, she said, they still forwarded the samples for genome sequencing. 

“Yung nanay 'yung kanyang positive na resulta is more than 30 (CT value) also. We don’t know kung tatanggapin also ng Philippine Genome Center (PGC),” Vergeire said.

(The mother’s positive result also had a CT value of more than 30. We don’t know if the Philippine Genome Center will accept this.)

Of the 49 other close contacts of the 29-year-old man, one tested positive for COVID-19 as well although he turned out to be a recovering coronavirus patient. His samples, although with low viral load, was also sent to the PGC.

Vergeire said the results of the genome sequencing might be released by Thursday night or later due to the large volume of samples being tested by the PGC.