PH Genome Center checks samples of travelers from UK, other patients for new COVID variant

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 29 2020 01:12 PM | Updated as of Dec 29 2020 03:57 PM

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MANILA (UPDATE) — Samples of incoming travelers who test positive for COVID-19 will undergo gene sequencing to check for the new SARS-CoV-2 variant from the United Kingdom, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Tuesday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing that there were 85 passengers who recently arrived from the UK, of whom, one tested positive for COVID-19, 81 are negative, and three still have pending results.

Vergeire said the sample was already sent to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) in the University of the Philippines.

“Ngayon at saka bukas (Today and tomorrow), the Philippine Genome Center have started receiving samples coming from our laboratories,” Vergeire said.

Vergeire said samples from travelers from the UK and other countries affected by the new coronavirus variant will be included.

The health official said the PGC is able to sequence samples in batches of more than 700, so they will also be collecting samples from hospitals.

Vergeire said this will enable the country to check if any patients from November and December have the new variant which is said to be more transmissible. 

“All of these will take around one week,” she said, adding that they promised the Office of the President that they will send results by the first week of January.

As of Tuesday, there is still no reported case of the new coronavirus variant in the Philippines.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) initially announced Tuesday a wider travel ban covering several territories supposedly effective midnight of Dec. 29.

But it later took down the advisory from its Facebook account, as Presidential and inter-agency task force on COVID-19 spokesman Harry Roque denied such policy is already in effect.

In its now-deleted post, the MIAA said passengers from the following countries are supposedly disallowed entry in the Philippines:

  • United Kingdom 
  • South Africa 
  • Switzerland 
  • Italy 
  • Denmark 
  • Israel 
  • Hong Kong 
  • Spain 
  • Ireland 
  • Netherlands 
  • Singapore 
  • Lebanon 
  • Japan 
  • Canada 
  • Germany 
  • Sweden 
  • Australia 
  • France 
  • Iceland 
  • South Korea 

The agency did not cite a reason for the takedown of the advisory.

According to Roque, the public should wait for guidelines from the office of President Rodrigo Duterte "within the day" regarding the matter.

Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval said her bureau has yet to receive a directive from the Inter-Agency Task Force regarding an expanded travel ban.

The Philippines, as of Monday, has recorded 470,650 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 22,746 active infections, 9,124 deaths, and 438,780 recoveries.

The country's first confirmed case was recorded on Jan. 30 in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged late last year.

- with a report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

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