More contacts of PH's new COVID-19 variant 'patient zero' test positive; total now at 13

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 20 2021 04:12 PM | Updated as of Jan 20 2021 10:01 PM

MANILA — There are now 13 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 among contacts of the man confirmed to be the first case of the new coronavirus variant in the Philippines, the Department of Health said Wednesday.

This is two cases higher than what the DOH reported on Wednesday morning, including the patient's girlfriend and mother. Health authorities are still checking whether they had contracted the new, more contagious variant. 

The so-called index case or first person to test positive for the new and more transmissible COVID-19 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, is a 29-year-old Filipino who traveled to Dubai on December 27 and returned to the Philippines on January 7 with his partner.

The DOH earlier in the day reported that his girlfriend, his mother and 8 of his co-passengers on the flight back to Manila tested positive for COVID-19. 

Because the viral load detected in the samples of the 8 co-passengers was low, they would have to be re-swabbed, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during an ABS-CBN Teleradyo interview on Wednesday evening.

“All 8 co-passengers are in stable condition and will remain under strict monitoring while completing isolation and while waiting for results of re-swabbing. Contact tracing also showed that the 8 cases had no close contact when they arrived, and infection and prevention control practices were strictly observed by personnel who attended to the said cases,” the DOH said in its latest release. 

Vergeire said there was also one close contact, a health worker who tended to the index case while in isolation, who was already recovering from COVID-19 to begin with.

In the latest DOH media release, identified among the COVID-positive contacts of the man were two other co-passengers who had initially tested negative.

“(The two contacts) were very far from the index case and the girlfriend,” Vergeire said, explaining that the 2 co-passengers were seated at the front of the plane while the 29-year-old man and his girlfriend were at the back. 

“So yung probabilidad na dun nya nakuha sa kaso ay mababa dahil malayo sya sa tao na index case. But of course the probability is there also,” she added. 

(So the probability that they got infected by the case is low because they sat far from the index case. But of course the probability is there also.)

Vergeire explained that while contact tracing usually involves just those seated near the patient, the DOH as a precaution decided to trace all the passengers of the plane.

The DOH said the sample for the girlfriend, the only one who had a sufficient viral load for genome sequencing, was already sent to the Philippine Genome Center to determine the variant of the virus she had contracted.

All of the contacts are under isolation and strict monitoring. As of Wednesday morning, Vergeire said they are still looking for 4 other co-passengers.

The DOH thanked the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Regional and Local Epidemiology and Surveillance Units, the Quezon City Local Government Unit, and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong for “their efforts in ensuring immediate and comprehensive contact tracing and response to mitigate further spread of the disease.”

It also reminded the public that regardless of the variant, they should protect themselves from the virus by observing minimum health standards such as the wearing of face masks and practicing physical distancing.

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