DOH: Local transmission of UK variant confirmed
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed local transmission of the new, highly contagious United Kingdom (UK) variant of the coronavirus following the discovery of 12 cases in the town of Bontoc in Mountain Province.
“Right now, we have local transmission where this individual or these cases with the variant have already infected their community, their family,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a television interview on Tuesday.
In a statement issued late Monday, the DOH said the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2—the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19—had been identified through genome sequencing.
It said the variant had spread among 12 people in Bontoc, with 17 such cases in the country.
The DOH, however, said there was still no community transmission of the British variant. It said all the cases with the variant could be epidemiologically linked to cases coming from outside the country or from specific cases or exposures that can still be identified, something that is not possible with community transmission.
At a news briefing on Tuesday morning, Dr. Alathea de Guzman, a medical specialist with the DOH’s epidemiology bureau, cited conditions identified by the World Health Organization for a declaration of community transmission: a large number of cases, an occurrence of case clusters in multiple areas, and the inability to link cases to known sources of infection.
De Guzman said the DOH still did not know how the British variant reached Bontoc. But she said 11 of the British variant cases were linked to the Filipino migrant worker who returned from Britain on Dec. 13 with his wife.
Both tested negative for the coronavirus and they traveled to Bontoc, arriving there on Dec. 14. They visited relatives and friends, then went to Sagada on Dec. 21.
On Dec. 29, the migrant worker began to show symptoms of Covid-19. He, however, did not have the British variant—a puzzle for the DOH, as the others had the more infectious type of the Covid-19 agent.
De Guzman said health officials were still looking into the cases. “We are not yet concluding that he is the source of the infection[s], or the index case, but we can see that [the other] cases are linked to him,” she said.
The DOH, she added, was looking into the contacts of the others, as one of them could have come in contact with someone who had picked up the British variant in another country.
The world is scrambling to contain the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant despite travel bans, new lockdowns, and tightening of quarantine measures in dozens of countries, amid concerns it could not only be more transmissible but also deadlier.
The confirmation of domestic transmission of the British variant prompted President Duterte on Monday to abandon a plan to allow more children to go out.
“I am afraid because this new strain strikes the young children,” he said in televised address late Monday. “They can glue their attention on TV the whole day.”
The government had hoped easing restrictions on children might boost economic activity, after a year when growth is expected to have contracted 8.5-9.5 percent.
On Monday, the local government of Bontoc launched free testing following reports of the discovery of the British variant in the town.
“The free mass testing is part of the government’s strategy to curb the spread of the virus,” Bontoc Mayor Franklin Odsey said in a statement. Bontoc has a population of 24,643, based on the 2015 census.
The DOH has classified Mountain Province under critical epidemic level due to a surge in Covid-19 cases and the discovery of the 12 British variant cases.
With more than half a million coronavirus cases and more than 10,000 deaths, the Philippines is among the worst affected countries in Asia.
On Tuesday, the DOH reported 1,173 additional coronavirus infections, raising the overall number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country to 516,166.
Cebu City recorded the highest number of new cases, 84, followed by Davao City (67), Cavite (51), Quezon City (47) and Rizal (41).
The DOH said 18 more patients had recovered, bringing the total number of Covid-19 survivors to 475,423. But the death toll rose to 10,386 with the deaths of 94 other patients.
The deaths and recoveries left the country with 30,357 active cases, of which 84.9 percent were mild, 8.4 percent were asymptomatic, 0.50 percent moderate, 2.5 percent severe, and 3.8 percent critical. —WITH REPORTS FROM KIMBERLIE QUITASOL AND REUTERS INQ
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