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Tighter screening eyed for Middle East travelers
This Dec. 24, 2020 photo shows passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The STAR/KJ Rosales, file

Tighter screening eyed for Middle East travelers

Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - May 13, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III will recommend stricter border controls for travelers from the Middle East after the Indian variant or B1617 was detected in two Filipino seafarers who arrived from Oman and United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month.

“I will recommend that certainly. Rest assured I will make the recommendation,” Duque said yesterday, noting that he is in touch with World Health Organization (WHO) country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe.

Members of the Department of Health-Technical Working Group on New Variants of COVID-19 believe that the new testing and quarantine protocols for inbound travelers could help minimize the entry of variants into the country.

Based on current protocols, travelers are sent to a facility for 10-day quarantine, to be swabbed on the seventh day. If negative, they will be released after the 10th day but should complete the last four days of quarantine in their local government units.

“I am confident that the changes that we made to our quarantine polices are going to help us decrease the chances of the variant to come in,” infectious disease expert Dr. Edsel Salvana said.

“It’s always simpler if you say – impose a ban. It is less worrying for those at the ports of entry. But it is our advantage now that we have other workable solutions,” Dr. Anna Ong-Lim added.

“Testing at the right time and the completion of the quarantine are important. The virus and the variants do not respect borders,” Dr. Marissa Alejandria said, adding that “mobility and travel” facilitate the spread of the virus.

Mutations

On Tuesday, the DOH announced that the B1617 had entered the Philippines. The so-called triple mutant variant is believed to have caused the devastating spike in cases in India, now considered the epicenter of the global pandemic.

DOH chief epidemiologists Alethea de Guzman said B1617 has two mutations – the L454R associated with increased transmissibility and reduced antibody neutralization, while E484Q helps the virus escape immune response.

Duque said that while there is not enough data yet on the “virulence and gravity of infection” of the Indian variant, the response will always be intensified compliance with minimum public health standards.

Closely monitored

Two more Filipino crewmen aboard COVID-stricken ship MV Athens Bridge that had a port stop in India are now in critical condition and being closely monitored, according to Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) office of the deputy OIC captain Jeffrey Solon.

Solon said that of the ship’s 21 all-Filipino crew, 12 tested positive for the virus. Four are in critical condition but showed signs of recovery, including a 65-year-old seafarer with comorbidity who remains unstable due to fluctuating oxygen levels. The other eight are quarantined in an undisclosed facility.

Nine crewmen remain inside the vessel as their RT-PCR test yielded negative results. They are set to undergo another test before the ship changes crew on or before May 15.

“We are waiting for the test results to know if they contracted the illness in India or Malaysia. It was intense because almost half the crew were infected. It is handled very well and we appreciate the help of the vessel’s manning agency,” Solon said. – Robertzon Ramirez

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