28 other contacts await genome sequencing results
MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The Philippine government, as of Monday, has yet to detect additional cases of the new COVID-19 variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom and is said to be more transmissible, with 6 close contacts of the 12 UK variant cases in Bontoc, Mountain Province testing negative for it.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told media that samples of 28 other contacts of the UK variant cases in Bontoc were also submitted for genome sequencing at the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) and are awaiting results.
The Philippines detected its first UK variant case on January 13, a 29-year-old real estate agent and Quezon City resident who traveled to Dubai with his girlfriend.
Sixteen more UK variant cases were added last Friday, bringing the total number of new variant cases to 17.
“We are still determining the (actual) index case as we do our back tracking of contact tracing,” Vergeire said in a message to the media.
A DOH document released on Monday night said that while one of the positive COVID-19 patients was a traveler from the United Kingdom, he tested negative for the new COVID variant.
“Thus, the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit (RESU) and local government unit are currently backward tracing exposures and travel histories of cases to identify other possible source/s of infection,” the statement said.
Of the 144 close contacts of the initial UK variant cases detected in Bontoc, 116 were tested for COVID-19. Seventy-four tested negative, while 42 were positive for the disease.
Eight of the 42 were among the tally of 12 UK variant cases in Bontoc announced last Friday, while six others were found to be positive for COVID-19 but not of the new variant. The remaining 28 are awaiting results from the PGC.
“What we have seen here in this contact tracing efforts, we have identified already 3 clusters of infection,” she said. Eleven of the 12 cases from Bontoc are from Brgy. Samoki.
The health official cautioned however that the details are “not definite” yet.
“We are just giving you the details. Pinaga-aralan pa (We are still studying it),” she said.
Vergeire said they are still looking at other possible sources of the COVID clusters in the area.
For the lone UK variant case in La Trinidad, Benguet, 97 close contacts (1st and 2nd generation) have been identified.
“Four ang nagpositibo sa close contacts n'ya,” Vergeire said, identifying them as the mother, father, sibling and grandmother of the UK variant case.
(Four tested positive among the close contacts.)
The DOH said the samples of these four household members were already submitted for gene sequencing to learn if they also have the new variant. He also has 4 other co-workers that will be tested for COVID-19.
The Benguet case, who is asymptomatic, already received a negative swab test, 2 weeks after he first tested positive for COVID-19. The DOH said it is still investigating his exposure and travel history.
The two other returning overseas Filipinos with the UK variant who were reported on Friday were traced to Iloilo and Binangonan, Rizal. Both were on flight PAL PR 8661 from Lebanon last December 29, 2020.
The case in Iloilo was already located, Vergeire said, but the one in Binangonan is still going through verification.
Of the 283 other passengers, 4 were positive for COVID-19 and will undergo sequencing while 228 were negative. The test results of 51 other passengers and 19 flight crew are still being verified by the DOH.
“Yung sa Calamba, Laguna, they are now doing the initial investigation,” Vergeire said of the other UK variant case mentioned also last Friday.
The DOH said the sample of the patient, who already completed isolation, was in a biobank. The 23-year-old male was initially identified as having no travel history but the DOH on Monday evening said his travel history, exposure, and other details are being verified.
“So, take note that based on the latest available data, our case from Calamba city is not linked to cases from La Trinidad or Bontoc. We are still verifying if there is a link between the La Trinidad case to the Bontoc cases,” Vergeire said.
The health official said the last batch of UK variant cases were mainly from Cordillera Administrative Region because when they did the convenience sampling, they were able to get samples through the biobank of the Baguio General Hospital Medical Center.
As of Sunday, the Philippines has logged 513,619 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 27,765 active infections, 10,242 deaths, and 475,612 recoveries.
The country's first confirmed coronavirus infection was announced Jan. 30 last year, involving a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged in last 2019.
The government expects the initial batch of COVID-19 vaccine to arrive next month as it aims to inoculate up to 70 million individuals to achieve herd immunity against the new coronavirus.
Editor's Note: This article was revised to correct information released by the DOH during Monday morning's briefing. The corrections are based on the DOH's statement released Monday evening.