MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The inter-agency task force leading the country’s pandemic response has approved the fifth-day coronavirus testing of travelers arriving in the Philippines, an added precaution against a new, more contagious COVID-19 variant, Malacañang said on Friday.
Travelers coming from 34 countries covered by travel restrictions against the new variant are required to take a coronavirus test upon arrival in the Philippines, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
They will be quarantined until they get the result of another coronavirus test that they will take on the fifth day of their stay in the country, he said on a government-run television program.
"Having said this, we assure everyone that the government would find ways and means to have enough testing facilities that would be used or tapped to strictly comply with this resolution," Roque said in a statement.
The contacts of the country’s first patient with the new COVID-19 variant tested positive for the virus days after they tested negative upon arrival in Manila.
This prompted the Department of Health to recommend the additional testing requirement.
The first patient with the new COVID-19 variant is a 29-year-old man from Quezon City, who recently travelled to Dubai and later tested positive upon returning to the Philippines on Jan. 7. His girlfriend tested negative but was re-swabbed recently and turned out to be positive.
There were 3 other passengers who initially had negative test results but tested positive upon routine re-swabbing of all of the other passengers on the same flight as the first new variant case.
A pediatric infectious disease specialist also supports the re-swabbing of inbound travelers in hopes of averting community transmission of the new coronavirus variant.
"Our study showed that we could possibly not detect as much as 10 percent of travelers to be positive when they arrive," Dr. Anna Ong-Lim told Teleradyo.
"To ensure that no one passes through, we have to implement the re-swabbing of travelers," she said in Filipino.
Lim is a member of the technical working group of the health department.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire previously explained that people who are infected with COVID-19 and are still in the incubation period might test negative even with the PCR test, which is considered the gold standard for coronavirus screening.
The variant includes a genetic mutation in the "spike" protein, which could theoretically result in easier spread of COVID-19.
As of Thursday, some 14 people had tested positive for the new COVID-19 variant in the country.
The patient also tested negative upon arrival in the Philippines and then tested positive after being re-swabbed.