EDITORIAL - Itâs here

EDITORIAL - It’s here

(The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2021 - 12:00am

With international travel still allowed for several countries, it was just a matter of time before the new variant of COVID-19 reached the Philippines. The variant, called B-117, was first detected in the United Kingdom and has been reported to be over 50 percent more infectious although no deadlier than the original coronavirus.

Only last Jan. 6, Hong Kong authorities announced that a Filipina household helper who arrived there from the Philippines had tested positive for B-117. The Filipina is recovering and those she came in contact with in her home province have tested negative for COVID and its variant, health officials said yesterday. It’s unclear if she contracted the variant in Hong Kong.

Last Wednesday, however, the Department of Health reported that a Filipino resident of Kamuning, Quezon City who arrived on Jan. 7 from a trip to Dubai had tested positive for B-117 while undergoing 14-day quarantine in a hotel. His female companion has tested negative, but authorities have yet to complete the contact tracing of about 100 other passengers on the Emirates flight EK 332 from the UAE.

While in Dubai, the patient reportedly visited malls, groceries and tourist sites. That city is teeming with Filipinos, and the DOH has proposed including the United Arab Emirates in the Philippines’ travel ban. Since returning from Dubai, the patient has been in quarantine in a hotel in Manila.

Considering the high transmission rate of B-117, however, and with the country still a long way from the start of COVID vaccination, the arrival of the variant should lead to stricter observance of basic health safety protocols. Masks and face shields must be worn, and properly covering the nose and mouth. Regular handwashing is a small price to pay for keeping healthy.

And physical distancing cannot be disregarded. The country cannot risk more large gatherings such as the one for the Black Nazarene. There are numerous popular festivals ahead that will have to be scrapped. These are potential super spreader events, and the new variant raises the threat level for transmission. With lives and livelihoods at stake, people cannot afford to let down their guard.

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