DOH: Premature to declare community transmission of UK COVID-19 variant in PH

Angela Coloma, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 23 2021 12:14 PM

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of a cell infected with SARS-CoV-2 particles, isolated from a patient sample. SARS-CoV-2 virus particles are the small, roughly-spherical structures, found on the surface of the cell, which is exhibiting elongated, rod-shaped cell projections. Image captured at the NIAID Research Facility (IRF) in fort Detrick, Maryland. NIAID

MANILA - It is premature to say if there is already community transmission of the new and more transmissible COVID-19 variant in the Philippines, experts and health officials said Saturday, even as new cases of the strain were recorded among those with no travel history. 

In an online press briefing, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine director Dr. Celia Carlos said it is “premature” to conclude that there is local transmission following the confirmation of 16 more cases of the new variant. 

Carlos said there are standards laid down by experts to determine if there has been local transmission, but added have to wait for the results of the investigation. 

"Considering that investigation is ongoing it may be premature to say whether there’s an ongoing community transmission," Carlos said. 

Among the standards, Carlos said, is the detection of a large number of cases not linkable through transmission chains, a large number of cases from several sides "if there is an existing surveillance," and multiple unrelated clusters in several areas of the country. 

Dr. Edsel Salvana, a member of the Department of Health's Technical Advisory Group, agreed, saying: "Right now there is no evidence of that (community transmission) dahil mayroon tayong isang cluster lang at alam natin na magkaka-related sila (and we know they are all related) and we have to find one person na common source."

The DOH Friday night had announced that there were 16 new cases of the variant in the country, raising the total to 17. Twelve of the cases came from 2 barangays in Bontoc, Mountain Province, two among those who had taken a flight from Lebanon, and 1 each from Benguet and Laguna. 

This is apart from the QC resident who tested positive for the variant after arriving from Dubai with his girlfriend on January 7- the first confirmed case of the variant which had first spread in the United Kingdom. 

The specimen from the patient in Laguna, a 23-year-old male, was collected on December 10. Salvana said this was part of samples "that were already archived" and backtracked by health authorities after it was announced that a new variant was detected in the UK. 

On that date, it had not been considered as the UK variant, Salvana said. Some COVID-19 samples were found to have carried the new variant as early as September in the United Kingdom.

"This person probably entered the country dala niya 'yung UK variant, pero hindi pa identified na UK variant 'yon. Hindi pa naa-announce na ito ang problema. But, part of our due diligence was to look back. Pero aside from that, wala from anywhere else," Salvana said, noting that most of the cases came from one cluster. 

(This person probably entered the country, carrying the UK variant. But it has not been identified as the UK variant. It has not been announced that this was the problem. But part of our due diligence was to look back. But aside from that, there is none from anywhere else.) 

Salvana added that local health authorities have probably detected the strain earlier than the United Kingdom, saying local genome surveillance has been "doing its job."

"The fact that we detected it early and also ito lang ang nakita sa December (this was what was detected from December)... We might have actually detected it even earlier than the UK because September sila nagkaroon at December na-detect (they had a case in September but it was detected in December). Time lang natin is a month. And now with the new cluster, it's even less than that," Salvana said.