Not omicron: DOH detects different COVID-19 variant from S. Africa traveler

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 11 2021 01:13 PM | Updated as of Dec 11 2021 06:43 PM

MANILA (UPDATE)— The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday said it has detected a different COVID-19 variant, the B.1.1.203, in a traveler coming from South Africa amid alert over the highly transmissible omicron. 

In a public briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the variant is neither of concern or interest and was shown in the Philippine Genome Center's Dec. 9 biosurveillance results. 

The official did not say whether or not the patient was suffering from any symptoms.

"There was no sample positive for the omicron variant, naisama po natin dito 'yung isang arrival from South Africa, kung saan lumabas po 'yung sequencing results na isa po itong variant na B.1.1.203," Vergeire explained. 

(This includes the arrival from South Africa where results showed that this is variant B.1.1.203.)

"Hindi po siya omicron, hindi rin po siya 'yung mga variants na binabantayan natin dito sa ating bansa, hindi rin po ito variant of concern or interest," she emphasized. 

(It is not omicron, and it is not among the variants we are monitoring here in our country. It is not a variant of concern or a variant of interest.)

The DOH, in a separate message to reporters, said the passenger arrived on November 16 and underwent testing on November 21. Their current status was still "for verification", as the agency coordinated with the regional epidemiology surveillance unit (RESU). 

The traveler supposedly had an address in Central Visayas, but the exact location was still also being verified, the DOH noted. 

"We reiterate that this is not a variant of concern, nor a variant of interest. We urge the public to continuously adhere to the minimum public health standards to ensure prevention against transmission of COVID-19. Also, get vaccinated to get additional protection against severe or critical case of COVID-19," the agency added. 

According to the European Comission's COVID-19 In Vitro Diagnostic Devices and Test Methods Database, the B.1.1.203 had been found 48 times worldwide as of Oct. 15. 

No omicron variant, meanwhile, was detected in the recently-sequenced samples, Vergeire added. 

The 5 located passengers from South Africa, where the more transmissible omicron variant was first detected, tested negative for COVID-19, which was why their samples were not included in the latest batch for sequencing. 

They will be retested, she said. 

The other 2 unlocated passengers, who had addresses in Mimaropa and Mindanao, have tested negative for COVID-19, but the local governments are still looking for them. 

They arrived on Nov. 22, she said.

The country temporarily banned arrivals from 15 countries, including South Africa, at least until Dec. 15 as a measure against the spread of the new strain.

The Philippines has recorded nearly 2.84 million confirmed coronavirus infections as of Friday, including 11,905 that are active. 

Its first case was logged on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where COVID-19 is believed to have first emerged.

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