Gov't analysis shows new COVID-19 variant not yet in Philippines

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Gov't analysis shows new COVID-19 variant not yet in Philippines
Commuters queue for a ride at an EDSA-Carousel bus stop near Main Avenue along EDSA in Quezon City on January 4, 2020, the first day of the resumption of work for 2021.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The new coronavirus variant that first emerged in the United Kingdom has not yet been detected in the Philippines, the Department of Health and the Philippine Genome Center said Wednesday.

The DOH and the PGC said the new variant, which experts say potentially spreads faster than the original strain first detected in China, has not yet reached the country based on the analysis of samples taken in November and December.

“Based on the lineage analysis through whole genome sequencing done by the PGC, the UK variant was not detected in any of the 305 positive samples submitted to them from nine institutions,” the joint statement read. 

The samples analyzed by local genomic researchers were composed of positive samples from hospital admissions and from inbound travelers who tested positive upon arrival at the airport.

The development comes after Hong Kong health officials reported four cases of the new variant. Among them was a 30-year-old female Hong Kong resident, who arrived from Manila on December 22.

The patient, tagged as Case 9003, arrived in Hong Kong via PR 300.

The DOH said it is in “close coordination” with Hong Kong’s International Health Regulations focal point to secure official notification and other relevant information about the said Hong Kong resident.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said past midnight that the agency will also retrieve the flight manifest for the identified flight.

The emergence of the new strain has prompted the Philippines to impose travel restrictions on at least 21 countries, including the UK and the United States.

The DOH said the list of countries covered by travel ban will be regularly updated to include nations that will officially report detection of the variant.

The agency reminded the public that strictly following minimum public health standards is still the “best measure” to cut transmission of the strain and reduce the opportunities for virus mutation.

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