Philippines detects 16 more cases of new COVID-19 variant
This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab. Image captured and colorized at NIAID's Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana.

Philippines detects 16 more cases of new COVID-19 variant

Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) - January 23, 2021 - 9:09am

MANILA, Philippines — Health authorities in the Philippines reported late Friday evening that they detected 16 more cases of the new coronavirus variant which is feared to be more infectious, with two cases of local transmission.

The Department of Health said in a statement that the two patients with the B117 variant from La Trinidad, Benguet and Calamba City, Laguna, have no known contact to any COVID-19 patient and no travel history outside the country.

The patient from La Trinidad is still admitted in a temporary treatment and monitoring facility in Benguet, while the 23-year-old male from Calamba has been discharged after he was cleared of the infection on January 16.

Twelve of the 16 cases were detected from Bontoc, Mountain Province. Their exposure and travel history is still unknown and is being investigated, the DOH said. It added that contact tracing is underway.

Of the 12 patients from Bontoc with the new coronavirus variant which was first identified in the United Kingdom, three are aged below 18 and three more are aged above 60.

Under current quarantine classifications ending January 31, Benguet, Laguna and Mountain Province are under modified general community quarantine where people aged 10 to 65 will be allowed to go out starting February. Government is set to revisit quarantine protocols for February.

The remaining two cases of the new coronavirus variant are two Filipinos who returned to the country from Lebanon on Dec. 29, 2020 onboard Philippine Airlines flight PR 8661.

One of the patients is a 64-year-old woman, who lives in Jaro, Iloilo City, was isolated in San Juan City and discharged on January 9. The other patient, a 47-year-old woman who lives in Binangonan, Rizal, was quarantined in New Clark City and discharged on January 13.

Of the 16 new cases of the B117 variant, the DOH said that three have already recovered, while 13 are active cases, three of whom do not have any symptoms and 10 have mild symptoms.

“Biosurveillance is in place, and we will continue to expand our capacities to detect all COVID variants of public health importance,” the DOH said.

The Philippines’ first case of the B117 variant is a 29-year-old real estate agent who arrived in the Philippines on January 7 from a business trip in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Authorities were able to trace 213 contacts of the patient, which include the passengers who were on the same Emirates flight EK332 as him, his household members and healthcare workers who attended to him.

Fifteen contacts were found to be positive for COVID-19, including his girlfriend who accompanied him in his trip but tested negative upon arrival. The patient’s mother also tested positive.

Their samples were sent to the Philippine Genome Center for sequencing to check the presence of the more contagious variant.

In a briefing Friday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the genome sequencing results of the positive contacts will be out by Saturday.

The country’s coronavirus task force approved the recommendation requiring travelers returning from jurisdictions covered by travel restrictions to take a second test five days after their arrival in the country.

The government is closing its borders to foreigners coming from 34 countries until the end of the month in a bid to keep new COVID-19 variants out.

Preliminary estimates find the B117 or the one first detected in the United Kingdom between 30% and 70% more contagious than other forms of the virus. But there is no evidence that the variant is more deadly than others.

Experts warned that an increase in the transmission of the new variant will lead to more people getting infected and sick, which can overwhelm the country's health system anew. — with a report from Gaea Katreena Cabico

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