DOH says no sufficient data to say new COVID-19 variants widespread in Philippines

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 05 2021 04:57 PM

DOH says no sufficient data to say new COVID-19 variants widespread in Philippines 1
Second-dose vaccinations of Sinovac for senior citizens and people with comorbidities continue in San Juan City on April 26, 2021, as new stock of vaccines arrive in the country. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The presence in the Philippines of COVID-19 variants first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa is not widespread, the Department of Health said Wednesday.

While there are 602 patients in Metro Manila infected with the so-called South African variant, and another 258 with the UK variant, it does not mean that these are the dominant strains in the country, said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

"Hindi natin masasabi at this point because we are only doing sampling," she said in an online press conference.

(We cannot say it's widespread at this point because we are only doing sampling.)

"We get samples from areas with clustering of infections, with linkages to specific individuals who tested positive for these variants. [Pero] hindi pa natin ma-ascertain kung sila na 'yung prevalent variants dito at kung meron nang community transmission," she said.

(We get samples from areas with clustering of infections, with linkages to specific individuals who tested positive for these variants. But we cannot ascertain if these are the prevalent variants and if there is already community transmission.)

Most carriers of the foreign variants are Filipinos from overseas, she said.

"Kailangan natin pag-intingin ang border control na kahit na makapasok ang mga variants na ito, kailangan handa tayo," she said.

(We have to improve our border control so that even if these variants come in, we are prepared.)

Several countries have been wary about the new variants, saying the mutated forms of the virus spread faster compared to the original strain.

The Philippines needs to improve its contact tracing efforts as there may be asymptomatic carriers of the foreign variants, Vergeire said.

"We recognize the fact that among the different responses we are doing, isa ang contact tracing sa medyo weak ang ating response (contact tracing is one area where we have a weak response)," she said.

In April, the national government said it would hire 14,000 additional contact tracers in the capital region after a surge in new COVID-19 cases was seen in March.

"This is worth P213 million para dito sa Kalakhang Maynila (for Metro Manila). This is for a period of 3 months, very intensified na talaga po (our contact tracing has intensified)," Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chair Benhur Abalos said in an earlier interview.

While the Philippines is trying to develop a contact tracing app a year since the pandemic began, the country has also eased its standard in finding individuals who were exposed to a COVID-19 patient.

Contact-tracing "czar" and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong earlier said authorities should locate at least 37 people exposed to every COVID-19 case, but the National Task Force Against COVID-19 has agreed to halve the target to 15 contacts for every patient.

The country has logged a total of 1,073,555 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Wednesday, of which, 62,713 or 5.8 percent are active.

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