MANILA — The index case of the new, more transmissible COVID-19 variant in Bontoc, Mountain Province arrived there on Dec. 11 from the United Kingdom, eventually infecting relatives after holding a ritual, officials said Saturday.
In an interview on Teleradyo, Bontoc Mayor Franklin Odsey said the town's first case of the UK COVID-19 variant arrived on that date to visit her family. She initially tested negative of the virus.
Bontoc earlier confirmed 12 cases of the new coronavirus variant, with 11 in one cluster in a single barangay. Two villages are currently on lockdown to prevent further spread of the virus.
"She has undergone RT-PCR test and negative nga, kaya na-announce sila eh. It was only when they arrived in our place that we found out na mayroon pala silang ano, virus," Odsey explained.
(She tested negative from the virus that is why she was allowed to go to the province. It was only when they arrived in our place that we found out.)
The Filipina tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 18, according to the mayor.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, meanwhile, said that the index case reportedly arrived in the country on Dec. 13, and went to her hometown, Bontoc, on Dec. 14.
The person's close contacts started developing COVID-19 symptoms days after conducting a ritual in their place, according to Vergeire.
"Mayroon hong isang kababayan natin na umuwi last Dec. 13, at siya po ay na-test, negative... Nagkaroon po sila ng mga kaunting selebrasyon with their family at nagkaroon ng ritual because of their beliefs at dito nagsimula ang sintomas," she said in a Laging Handa briefing.
(Our kababayan went home and she tested negative. They had a small celebration with family members and had a ritual in line with their beliefs. After that, they developed symptoms.)
"Pero kinakalap pa natin ang mga tamang impormasyon para ma-relay natin sa publiko nang maayos," she added.
(But we are still gathering correct information to relay this to the public properly.)
Most of the 11 infected with the new variant in the town, Odsey pointed out, were the Filipina's relatives.
"In-law... Kamag-anak ang unang nakasalamuha," he said.
(In laws, and relatives were the first people who had close contacts with the index patient.)
The Filipina was confined in the hospital and was discharged after a 14-day mandatory quarantine, he said.
The index case is currently under home quarantine and is awaiting another set of swab results.
Of the 11 other individuals who tested positive for the new variant in Bontoc town, 6 are still in the Bontoc General Hospital, while 5 were already discharged, the mayor said.
In a report released Saturday, the OCTA Research Group said the UK variant was behind the surge in cases in Bontoc.
"The report that a dozen cases of the SARS-Cov2 B.1.1.7 UK variant were identified in Bontoc, Mountain Province confirms the patterns that were observed in the post holiday surge there," the independent research group pointed out.
"Based on sampling, it is estimated that the prevalence of the UK variant in the Mountain Province is about one out of three," the report added.
The group said that Mountain Province, Benguet and Kalinga have recorded an increase in daily new COVID-19 cases, with average daily attack rates (ADAR) of over 10 per 100,000 people.
ADAR is the number of new cases in a city or province over a two-week period, divided by the population of the city or province.
The 3 provinces also have a positivity rate, or the number of persons who turn out positive for the virus out of all the tested individuals, of over 10 percent.
High positive rates “warrants an increase in testing capacity in these areas,” according to the OCTA Group.
As of Friday, Mountain Province has reported 556 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which 377 are active cases and 177 are patients who recovered from the disease.
Experts and health officials earlier in the day said it was still premature to say if there was already community transmission of the new and more transmissible COVID-19 variant in the Philippines, even as new cases of the strain were recorded among those with no travel history.
The country first recorded the presence of the new COVID-19 strain on Jan. 13, from a Filipino who arrived from Dubai on Jan. 7. He has recovered.
On Friday, health authorities confirmed 16 more cases, including the 12 in Bontoc, 2 in OFWs who returned from Lebanon, and one patient each from La Trinidad, Benguet and Calamba City, Laguna.