DOH confirms local transmission of UK COVID-19 variant in Bontoc

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
DOH confirms local transmission of UK COVID-19 variant in Bontoc
Intensified and expanded contact tracing is underway for the 12 confirmed cases of the new and more transmissible COVID-19 UK in Bontoc, Mountain Province on January 25, 2021.
Municipality of Bontoc, Mountain Province

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:36 p.m.) — The Department of Health confirmed the local transmission of the new and more contagious coronavirus variant in Bontoc, Mountain Province.

“The Department of Health confirms local transmission in Bontoc of the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 as identified through genomic sequencing,” the DOH said in a statement released late Monday evening.

“To date, all identified cases with the UK variant can be epidemiologically linked to cases coming directly from outside the country (importation) or from specific cases or exposures that can still be identified (local transmission),” it added.

According to the World Health Organization, "local transmission indicates locations where the source of infection is within the reporting location."

Last week, the DOH reported 16 additional cases of the COVID-19 variant that was first seen in the United Kingdom. Of the figure, 12 were from the upland town of Bontoc.

The department stressed there is “no strong evidence” of community transmission based on the criteria set by the World Health Organization. These include “appearance of a large number of cases, occurrence of case clusters in multiple areas and inability to link cases to known sources of infection.”



‘Backward tracing’

The DOH said the clustering of cases in Baragay Samoki in Bontoc was reported to have started with a Filipino who returned from the United Kingdom. He and his wife arrived in the town on December 14 after testing negative for COVID-19.

While in Bontoc, the man interacted with relatives and neighbors, went to neighboring Sagada town and attended a ritual. Then, on December 29, he started having abdominal symptoms.

A total of 46 close contacts linked to the man were positive for COVID-19. Of the figure, 12 were positive for the B.1.1.7 variant, six negative for the new variant and the 28 remaining samples will be sequenced.

The department revised its earlier statement on the “index case”, or the first identified case in Bontoc, saying the man tested positive for COVID-19 but was found to be negative for the new variant.

“While we have identified linkages of cases to the traveler from the UK, said traveler was negative for the B.1.1.7 variant and his wife was negative on PCR test,” the DOH said.

In a briefing Tuesday, Dr. Alethea de Guzman, a medical specialist of the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau, said authorities are still figuring out the source of the more transmissible COVID-19 variant that reached Bontoc.

"As of now, we're not concluding that this is the source of infection… But we can see the cases are linked to him. So it bears further investigation to definitely say whether he is or he is not the source of infection," de Guzman said.

The DOH said its Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit and local government units are currently doing backward tracing of exposures and travel histories of cases to identify other possible source/s of infection.

Authorities are also identifying and interviewing returning overseas Filipinos and are conducting contact tracing of contacts up to third generation.

The Philippines has recorded at least 17 cases of the new variant. The first confirmed case was a Filipino who traveled to Dubai.

Preliminary estimates find that B.1.1.7, which according to the World Health Organization has spread to 60 countries, is between 30% and 70% more contagious than other forms of the virus. 

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.


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