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7 co-passengers of variant patient yet to be contacted
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH is getting some help from contact tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong in locating the passengers who were on the same flight as the patient.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

7 co-passengers of variant patient yet to be contacted

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Seven co-passengers of the country’s first case of the United Kingdom (UK) variant of COVID-19 have not been contacted yet, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH is getting some help from contact tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong in locating the passengers who were on the same flight as the patient.

“Mayor Magalong is now helping us in expanding the contact tracing… We could not contact them in the addresses and contact numbers that they provided,” she noted at a press briefing.

Interior spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the government has 255,854 contact tracers nationwide, emphasizing that re-hiring only 15,000 will not weaken the capacity to do the job.

He added that the re-hiring would augment the current number to meet the standards set by the DOH.

The 29-year-old real estate agent had traveled to Dubai on a business trip with his partner. Upon their return to the Philippines via Emirates Flight 332 last Jan. 7, they went through swab testing for COVID-19. The results showed him positive for B.1.17 SARS-CoV-2, the new UK variant of COVID-19. His partner had a negative result.

Vergeire said of the 159 co-passengers, excluding flight crew, the DOH could not get hold of the seven passengers. All others were assessed and put on quarantine.

She added that the DOH was also able to identify 214 contacts: 159 co-passengers, six household members and 49 health staff who attended to the agent.

The agency is waiting for the results of the swab tests on the other contacts who are all “asymptomatic and isolated.”

As the travel ban against countries flagged for the UK variant was extended until Jan. 31, National Capital Region director of the Department of Tourism Woodrow Maquiling Jr. reminded accommodation establishments that are operating as quarantine or isolation facilities of returning overseas Filipinos in Metro Manila to ensure the mandatory quarantine and negative RT-PCR result in line with the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Yesterday, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also reported a continuing rise in the number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) getting infected with COVID in the United Kingdom.

Rolly Francia, DOLE Information and Public Service director, cited the Philippine Overseas Labor Office report that said 79 OFWs acquired COVID in a span of only four days, from Jan. 14 to 17.

Most of those infected, he added, are nurses.

The new cases brought to 1,124 the total of COVID-infected OFWs in London, although there was no report of them getting infected with the new variant.

DOLE data also showed a total of 12,161 OFWs infected in various countries. Of the number, 885 have died.

Meanwhile, Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairman and Sen. Richard Gordon yesterday said the PRC is eyeing to ramp up its COVID-19 testing in the country as the new and more infectious COVID variant has been detected in the country.

“We recently launched a pilot testing of saliva test which involved more than 1,000 health workers and media practitioners. This is a pre-requisite for the approval of the Department of Health” as well as the Food and Drug Administration, Gordon said in a statement.

“If given the green light, PRC will ensure volume testing for individuals coming in and out of the country for us to trace this new COVID-19 variant and, hopefully, we will be able to contain the variant as soon as possible,” he added.

Paulyn Ubial, chief of the PRC Molecular Laboratories, said the only way to prevent the spread of the new variant was to increase testing. The PRC, with 13 molecular laboratories nationwide, tests about 30,000 to 50,000 persons daily. – Mayen Jaymalin, Neil Jayson Servallos, Catherine Talavera

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